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COVICI-M'GEE • PUBLISHERS
First Printing, March, iq23
The Stru^^le Pa^e 1
The Knife Pa^e 121
Instigation Pa^e 181
ARL Felman stepped from a train
at the Union Station of a mid-
western, American city. His
young face, partly obscured by a
blonde stubble of beard, was a
passive concealment, and his thin
lips and long nose did not hold that stalwart sleek-
ness which one associates with earth. If some
joker had taken a Gothic effigy of Christ, trimmed
its beard, dressed it in grey and dirty clothes, and
forced upon it an unwilling animation, he would
have produced an exact duplicate of Carl's aspect
In the emotional confusion of the railroad-
station, with its reluctant farewells and gushing
greetings, Carl walked alone and abstracted,
and he treated the scene as though it were a
feverishly unreal mixture of drama and travesty.
He strode with the careful haste of one who seeks
to escape from an irritating dream but knows at
the same time that his efforts are futile. He was
without baggage, and his face held the strain
that comes from battling with open spaces and
strange faces — the hunted question of the hobo.
His face showed two masks, one transparent and
passive and the other tense and protesting. He
had ridden for thirty-six hours in the chair of a
day-coach, without food or sleep, and he was
walking to the home of his parents because he
lacked the necessary car-fare, but these circum-
stances were only partly responsible for his air
of spectral weariness. He knew the stunned
exhaustion of a man whose mind and heart had
broken their questions against unfriendly walls,
and at intervals he became immersed in vain
efforts to understand the meaning of his wounds.
During the twenty-one years of his life he had
resembled an amateur actor, forced to play the
part of a troubled scullion in a first act that be-
wildered and enraged him. At high-school he had
been known as "the poet-laureate of room six-
teen," a title invented by snickering pupils, and
his timidly mystic lyrics about sandpipers, violets,
and the embracing glee of the sun, had gained an
unrestrained admiration from his English teach-
ers. Teachers of English in American high-schools
are not apt to insist upon originality and mental
alertness in expression, since their own lives are
usually automatic acceptances of a minor role, and
Carl became convinced that writing poetry was
only a question of selecting some applauded poet
of the past and imitating his verse. "You must
say the inspiring things that they have said, but
see that your words are a little different from
theirs," he said to himself, and his words — "a little
different" — became slightly incongruous upon the
thoughts and emotions of Tennyson and Long-
fellow, the latter two having been selected because
they seemed easier to flatter than other poets such
as Browning and Swinburne. Another Carl Fel-
man watched this proceeding from an inner dun-
geon but lacked the courage to interrupt it, for to
a boy the opinions of his teachers, delivered with
an air of weary authority, seem as inexorable as
the laws of the Talmud or the blazing sincerity
of sunlight. Carl was nearing seventeen at this
time — a lonely, vaguely rebellious, anaemic, dumb-
ly sullen boy, who tried in his feeble way to caress
the life-chains which he did not dare to break.
His parents, middle-aged Jews with starved imag-
inations and an anger at the respectable poverty
of their lives, looked upon his poetic desires with
mingled feelings of elation and uneasiness.
The phenomenon of an adolescent poet in the
family is always liked and distrusted by simple
people — liked because it pleasantly teases the
monotone of their existence, and distrusted be-
cause they fear, without quite knowing why, that
it will develop into a being at variance with the
fundamental designs of their lives. Carl's pa-
rents clucked their tongues in puzzled admiration
when he read them one of his poems, and then,
with a note of loquacious fear in their voices, told
( him that he must look upon writing as a "side-
line" — a pretty, lightly smirking distraction that
could snuggle into the hollows of a business-man's
life. Carl, who liked the importance of carrying
secret plots within him, did not answer this sug-
gestion, or gave it a sulky monosyllable, and his
reticence frightened his parents. The simple per-
son is reassured by garrulity, even when it attacks
but can derive nothing from silence save the feel-
ing of an unseen dagger. The Felmans wanted
their son to attain the money that had seduced
and eluded their longings, but deeper than that,
they yearned for him to place a colored wreath
over the brows of their tired imaginations — one
that could convince them that their lives had not
been mere sterile and oppressed bickerings. The
father, a traveling-salesman for a whiskey-firm,
wanted Carl to be prosperous and yet daring over
his cups while the mother felt that ho might
become a celestial notary-public, placing his seal
upon the unnoticed documents of her virtues.
Carl experienced the uncertain dreads of a
dwarf futilely attempting to squirm from a ring
of perspiring golden giants known to the world,
and not even sure of whether he ought to escape,
but knowing only that a vicious and unformed <!
ache within him found little taste for the flat-
footed routines of clerk or salesman. Upon
another planet this initial writhing is doubtless
offered the consolation of better compromises,
but the treadmill uproars of this earth merely
increased Carl's feelings of shrinking anger.
"Oh, well, I'll work in a store or sell something,
and make money. Life won't let you do anything
else," he said to himself. "But inside of me, m-m,
there I'll do as I please. I'll make a country where
poets and other begging men live in little huts
on the obscure hills and rear their families of
thoughts and emotions, with a haughty peaceful-
He shunned the people around him as much as
possible, studying his lessons in a precisely weary
manner and squatting on the grass of a public
park near his home where he wrote his dimly
placid lyrics to the sun and moon. He had no
companions at school, for the children around him
were quick to jibe at any remark of his that con-
tained a searching wraith of thought, and he did
not join in the school's minor activities because
of his angry pride at the giggling accusations of
queerness which he received from the other boys
and girls. They regarded him for moments as an
enticing target, reviling his exact grammar and
mild manners, but for the most part they paid
little heed to this grotesque atom lost in the swirl
of their games and plans. In a smaller school
the strident inquisitiveness of average children
thrown upon each other might have overwhelmed
him, but in the immense city high-school he
managed effortlessly to isolate himself, and the
children, once having dubbed him poet-laureate —
sarcastically mimicking the phraseology of their
elders — proceeded to forget about him.
When at length he was graduated, he begged
his parents to send him to college, desperately
fighting for another long period in which he could
brush aside dry information and rhyme "earth"
with "birth," since he preferred the frolic of
misty promises to a world of prearranged shouts
and sweating dreads. But his parents felt that
their period of uneasy indulgence had inevitably
ended, and words trooped from them in right-
eously redundant regiments.
"You're a big boy now, yes, a big boy, and you
know that we've sacrificed everything to give you
a good education," said Mrs. Felman. "Not that
we regret it, no indeed, we only hope that it helps
you to get along in life, but this college stuff,
now, is a lot of foolishness. That's only for people
with rich parents, or them that can afford to go
a long time without working; and not only that,
but it fills your head, you know, with a lot of
nonsense. It's time now that you go out and make
money to help your parents. You know that we're
just barely able to get along on what your father
makes. Not that we're begging you for your help,
you understand, but you should be only too proud
to give comfort to your parents. Uncle Emil can
use a smart boy like you in his clothing business
and he told us only the other night that he'd give
you a good job the minute you come down. You've
got to give up those writing notions of yours!
They don't bring you in anything, and a man
must go out into the world and make his own
living. Writing is no business for a strong, sen-
Carl listened with a feeling of impotent anger.
Yes, they were probably right in their commands
and he would be a scoundrel if he refused to obey
them and rescue them from their poverty ; but —
well, he preferred to be a scoundrel. "Beyond a
doubt I'm a lazy, ungrateful wretch, and all that
I care for is to put words together — that seems
to relieve me somehow — but say, how about stick-
ing to what I am?" he asked himself. "I know
perfectly well that I'll never change, and if I make
a liar out of the rest of my life that won't make
me any the less guilty. Besides, it's funny, but I
don't know whether I want to change. There's
something satisfactory about being a scoundrel —
it lets you do the things that you want to do;
while being good, as far as I can see, is just pre-
tending that you like to do the things that you
don't want to do. Well, I'm not going to stand for
that! I've got to choose between hurting my
parents and hurting myself and they are going
to be the victims. This will be mighty selfish, I
know, but I guess I'm a naturally selfish person.
Anyway, I don't feel much love for them and I
don't see that it will help them if I try to hide
my feelings. They would find out sooner or later
what an inhuman person I am and they might as
well find out now."
Carl answered the verbose commands and advice
of his parents with a mechanical "yes" now and
then — a small shield to protect the inner unfolding
of his thoughts — and walked into his bedroom,
where he rested his dull broodings upon a pillow.
The lives of some men represent a scale of gradu-
ally increasing compromises with, or victories
against, the forces surrounding them, while other
men crowd their decision into one early moment
and walk swiftly down an unchanging road. The
boy with Carl died upon the bed in his room and
the fumbling, stiffly vindictive beginning of a man
rose and walked into the street, with an evil smile
petrifying the softness of his face. In this emo-
tional birth he became to himself a huge black
criminal staggering beneath the weight of unre-
leased plots, and he derived an angry joy
from this condition, reveling in the first guilty
importance that had invaded his meekly repressed
With the inquisitive grin of one who is quite
convinced that he is an embryonic monster, he
arose at five o'clock on the next morning, stole
into the bedroom of his sleeping parents, pilfered
fifteen dollars from the trousers of his father, and
took the train to a distant city, where he enlisted
in the United States Army. He had first intended
to do this at the nearest recruiting station, but
with the triumphant shrewdness of a budding
knave he decided that if he joined the army in
another city he could more easily escape being
arrested for his theft. He had robbed his parents
with an actually quivering delight, feeling that
it was the first gesture of his attack upon an
unresponsive world. In joining the army he had
not been lured by the recruiting poster's gaudy
lies concerning "adventure, travel, and recreation,"
but his reasons were more practical and involved.
He longed for the stimulus of a physical motion
that would not be concerned with the capture of
pennies and he believed that he could be more
alone with himself in a new whirlpool than in the
drably protected alcove from which he had fled.
He felt also that if he were going to prey upon
the world he must make haste to learn the tricks
and signals of a rogue and pay for this knowledge
with physical pain and weariness.
The details of his army life need not interfere
with this quickly sculptured hint of his birth. He
emerged from the lustreless w^orkshop of the army
with the patient bitterness of one whose dreams
have become the blundering slaves of a colorless
reality. For some time he wandered about the
country, in a stumbling dance with various kinds
( of manual labor — cotton picking, wood chopping,
factory work. At intervals he engaged in little
thefts, such as the money from a drunken man's
pockets, the purses of rooming-house landladies,
and articles from the counters of shops, and used
them for a week or two of leisure in which he
wrote of nightingales inebriated with the fra-
grance of lilac bushes, or dawn robbing the hills
of their favorite shawl.
His role of desultory sneak-thief failed to cause
within him the slightest shame or self-reproach
and he felt that his longings were using trivial
weapons in a furtive manner merely to protect a
secretly delicate bravery within him.
"I don't care whether the world is filled with
poets or not," he sometimes said to himself. "If
it were, I might want to be a carpenter or a clerk
then and make that my form of rebellion. I don't
know. But the world wants to be filled with car-
penters and clerks, and it's not as fair as I am.
The unfairness makes me angry and I strike
against it.' . . . You must guard your only reason
for living. All that I want to do is to keep on "^
writing, and since no one cares to pay me for this
kind of work I'll have to arrange for the payment
myself. When I do hard work during the day
I'm too tired to write at night, and the only way
in which I can get leisure time for writing is to
steal. If this is evil, it's been forced upon me.
Of course, I'd much rather steal out in the open,
but that would instantly bring me to jail. No, this
complicated game known as a world is unaware
of my existence and I must be equally absent-
minded in my own attitude."
His youthful gesture of contorted cynicism,
qualified a bit by the remaining ghosts of a naively
wounded idealism, made him resolve to become
a crafty underdog — a man who had become
obsessed with the task of findmg his voice and
was using every possible subterfuge and device
to protect this obsession, leering at the forces
that were attempting to mtrude upon his religious
concentration. Right and wrong to him were
unfair scarecrows that slipped from the huge
indifference of his surroundings and demanded
an attention which they were unwilling to give
in return. Perhaps he was a mmor knave, seek-
ing to rationalize his mstmcts for crime, and
perhaps he merely held a naked determination
like that of a certain immoral slayer and plun-
derer known as Nature. The question is a frayed
one and derives little benefit from the tensions
of exhausted arguments. Carl was constantly
harassed by a feeling of inarticulate insignificance,
and the poems which he twisted from his heart,
on park benches and in the long weeds of ditches
beside railroad tracks, were like bunches of
forget-me-nots plucked by a dirty, bewildered
child and thrown as offerings against the stone
breast of an unheeding giant. He still believed
that poetry was a cloak of blurred embroidery
that should be cast over the shoulders of senti-
ments such as love, faith, charity, mercy, chivalry,
courage and honor, and he felt both consoled
and amused at the thought that he was using a
rogue to guard within himself the better man
that life had not allowed him to become. His
love for the sentiments which he tipped with
rhymes was partly caused, however, by the fear
that without them he might become too utterly
inhuman for earthly survival.
For a year he wrestled with different manual
labors, and stole when their perspiring monotones
weakened and angered his desire to write lyrics
that were half trite and half thinly wistful, but
he finally decided to return to the midwestern
city and brave the reactions of his parents, whose
wrathful letters had sometimes visited his jour-
neys. He determined to rest awhile amid the
moderate comforts of his former home and felt
that he could disarm the anger of his parents
with a masterful, jesting attitude that would
muzzle them. And so, penniless and in dirty
clothes, he was now walking through the heavily
tawdry business district of a midwestern city.
On the streets martyred by crowds, electric '
lights pencilled the night with their trivial
appeals, and an ineffectual approach to daylight
spread its desperately dotted jest over the scene.
Since Carl almost never voiced his actual thoughts
and emotions to people, he grasped, as usual, the
luxury of speaking to himself.
"Electric light is only the molten fear of men,"
he said, as he strode through the unreal haste
of the crowds. "Men are afraid to look at the
night and they have given it eyes as stiffly fright-
ened as their own. Underneath the comforting
glare of this second blindness they protect them-
selves. In a dim light men and women could not
easily escape from each other, for the darkness
would tend to press them together, but in this
violent stare of light they are divided by a self-
assured indifference. Watch them as they stride
along with an air of gigantic, amusing importance.
The crowd is really a single symbol of many
isolations joined to a huge one. It sees only
those people who are unpleasantly conscious of
the electric glare, and who hurry through it \\'ith
gestures of alert dislike, or with a slow and morbid
desire for pain."
This fancy made him feel conspicuously dis-
robed, and the glances of passing people became
to him flitting symbols of derision directed at
his beard and dirty clothes. As he looked up at
the tall, unlit office buildings, grey and narrowly
vertical, they reminded him of coffins standing
on end and patiently waiting for a ci\ilization
to crumble, so that they might inter it and fall
to the ground with their task completed. He
reached the apartment-house section in which his
parents lived — rows of three and four-story build-
ings almost exactly like each other, and standing
like factory boxes awaiting shipment, but never
called for. In front of each building was a little,
square lawn hemmed in between the sidewalk and
the curbstone — tiny squares of dusty green lost
in a solved and colorless problem in material
geometry. Carl greeted them with a gesture of
ironical brotherhood as he hurried along the walk,
while people, observing his downcast gaze and
saluting hands, sometimes paused to doubt his
The glib suavity of a midsummer night sprin-
kled its sounds down the street and the doorsteps
and walks were hea^y with men. women and
children, parading the uncomfortable drabness of
their clothes and unwinding their idle talk. In
pairs and squads, youths and girls strolled past
Carl, laughing and playing to that exact degree
of animal abandon tolerated by the street lights
of a civilization, and som.etimes crossing the for-
bidden boundary line, with little bursts of guilty
spontaneity. Amid the openness of the street they
were forced to become jauntily evasive of the old
sensual madness brought by a summer evening,
and they sought the refuges of crudely taunting
words, snickering withdrawals, and tentative
invitations. They were sauntering toward the
kittenish excitements of ice-cream sundaes, mov-
ing pictures, and kisses traded upon the shaded
benches in a nearby public park. Thought had
subsided in their heads to a kindly mist that
clung to the rhythm of their emotions, though in
the main, their minds were merely emotions that
vainly strove to become discreet. Most people
are incapable of actual thought, and thinking to
them is merely emotion that calmly plots for more
concrete rewards and visions.
Carl looked upon the people on the sidewalks
with the attitude of an unscrupulous stranger.
and in his fancy he measured them for material
gains and attacks, without a trace of warm emo-
tion in his regard. To him they were merely
alien figures busily engaged in deifying the five
senses, and they mattered no more than shadowy
animals blind to his aims and presence. He had
long since frozen his emotions in self-defense and
nothing could unloosen them save the timidly
mystical lyrics which he wrenched from the
baffled surfaces of his heart. During the four
years of his life as a soldier and hobo he had
often looked upon some of the darker and more
rawly naked shades of sexual desire in the people
around him, but after a first period of mechanical
curiosity he had drawn aloof from what he con-
sidered a blind, shrieking, fantastic parade. "This
wearisome game of advancing and retreating flesh,
always trying to lend importance to an essential
monotone, can go to hell," he had muttered to
himself. "I'll yield to my sexual desires at rare
intervals, but I'll do it in the brief and matter-
of-fact manner in which a man spits into a
convenient cuspidor." Women to him were simply
moulds of dull intrigue, irritating him with their
pretenses of animation and with the oneness of
As he walked between the incongruities of hard
street surfaces and soft noises, ever5i;hing around
him seemed to be vainly trying to conceal a hol-
low monotone. Middle-aged and old people sat
around the doorsteps of the box-like apartment-
houses, and the circumscribed and hair's-breadth
shades of intelligence and defeat on their faces
were transparent over one color and shape. Each
of these people strove to convince himself that his
relaxation on this summer evening was a glitter-
ing honor conferred by hours of virtuous toil,
though at times discontent suddenly raised their
voices high in the air. It was as though they
lifted musical instruments, gave them one help-
less blow, and retired to apathy, scarcely aware of
what they had done. Carl looked at them with
a weary indifference that almost verged upon
hatred, and hurried down the cement walk.
As he neared the apartment-house where his
parents lived it suddenly occurred to him that the
entrance might be decorated by people who would
recognize him and comment upon his appearance
and his abrupt return. The thought of their
amused and veiled contempt, or their assumption
of superior compassion, made him cringe a little
and he turned to a side-street that led to an alley
which extended behind the block in which his
parents lived. He passed through the dismal rear
yard of beaten earth and ascended the wooden
stairway. A negro janitor, who had been working
in this place for several years, gazed at him, at
first with suspicion and then with a slowly pitying
grin of recognition.
" 'Lo, Mistah Felman. What brings you-all
Carl affected an irritated aloof ne^.
"I came back to enjoy a little shame," he said.
"What dat last word you said?"
"Shame, shame," repeated Carl, frowning at
"Guess you-all's crazy," said the negro, throw-
ing up his hands and stumping away.
This was one of Carl's favorite tricks. When-
ever he desired to avoid a forced exchange of
commonplaces, or the threat of a humiliation, he
would speak in a cryptic fashion that aroused
bewilderment or annoyance in the person before
him and helped him to end the conversation. He
found that the rear door of the apartment was
locked and knew that his parents were visiting an
adjacent moving-picture theater or sitting outside
on the tiny lawn. Happily, he eyed the open win-
dow and remembered how often in the past his
mother had scolded his father for that enormous
crime. Ah, the windows in their minds were well
nailed and shaded. He felt relieved at the knowl-
edge that he could probably sit for an hour or two
and rest before they returned. He climbed
through the window with the jocose satisfaction
of a criminal whose mock-hanging has been post-
poned, and sat on a weak- jointed rocking-chair in
the small dining-room.
Not a fraction of change had come to the clut-
tered dullness of the room. He saw the same
rickety table of round oak, where an inferior circle
was displaying with mild pride an embroidered
square of white linen; the modest and orderly
showing of cut-glass and silverware — ^tinsel of an
old defeat — ; the plaster-of-paris bust of an
Indian, violently colored and bearing an artificial
scowl ; the mantlepiece that held a little squatting
Chinaman made of colored lead and the bric-a-
brac effigy of a doll-like courtier in washed out
pinks and blues. On the wall opposite him a brass
clock, moulded into crude cherubs intertwined with
stiff blossoms, busily spoke of itself, forgetful of
the time that it was supposed to measure, and lit-
tle prints of uncertain landscapes hung in golden
frames upon the wall-paper that was stamped with
heavy purple grapes against a tan background.
Carl shuddered as though he were in the midst of
a weak and disorganized nightmare, in which real-
ity was indulging in a hackneyed burlesque at its
own expense, and he crashed his fist upon the oak,
"Damn it, I'll get out of this some day," he
shouted, craving the sharp relief of sound, and
then he grinned at the clumsy futility of his explo-
"If you ever do manage to escape from this con-
spiracy of barren peace and flat lies it won't be
with angry noise," he said to himself. "A vicious
calmness will help you more."
He extracted a soiled roll of pencilled, smudged
papers from an inside pocket of his coat and
stroked them as though they were a gathering of
living presences. The paper became smooth skin
to him and he questioned it with his fingers. This
reaction was not a sensual one but sprang from his
longing for a reality that had so far eluded his
consciousness. His poems, peeping with eyes of
fanciful promises above the veils that redeemed
their faces, were more concrete to him than actual
flesh and breath.
He sat in the rocking-chair, tired and vaguely
oppressed, clutching the paper in the manner of
one who clings to a tangible encouragement in
the midst of fantastic lies and fists. His parents
came into the room at l^st and turned on an elec-
tric light without at first noticing him in the semi-
gloom^. Turning, his mother saw him in the chair.
Her hands flew to her breast, in two tight slants,
as she impulsively pictured the presence of a
bearded burglar, and then she recognized him and
insulted her emotions with a cross between a gasp
and a squawk.
"It's Carl! Carl! For God's sake, v/hen did
you come in?"
"About an hour ago, through the window that
father always leaves open," said Carl, waiting
with a poised and resigned smile for the inevitable
His father came in from the kitchen, where he
had gone for a drink of water. Seeing Carl, he
slowly challenged him with sleepily prominent
"S-o-o, s-o! You're back here again," he said.
**I always said that you would come back. I knew
you would get tired of bumming around. I knew
it. Well, you loafer, what do you want from us
now? Some more money out of my pants-pockets,
maybe ? You're a son that I should be proud of ;
oh, yes !"
"Yes, and a fine condition he comes back in,"
said Mrs. Felman, who was beginning to be angry
at herself because she was not quite as wrathful
at Carl as she felt that she should have been. A
louder voice might supply this missing intensity.
"A fine condition! Look, will you, at his shoes,
and his clothes, and the beard on his face. A nice
specimen to be trotting back to his parents after
four years! When he needs us he comes back,
oh, sure, but we wasn't good enough for him
when he ran away and stole our money. We
should tell him to go right back where he came
from. Right back!"
She sat down with an air of stifled indignation
that strained in its effort to capture an actual
condition, and with many gasping words she tried
to piece together the image of an inexplicable
reptile. She was a woman whose emotions,
garrulously bitter because of the material strait-
jackets in which they had writhed for years, were
ever determined to exalt their bondage, if only
to win relief from pain. Carl had always been
an evil enigma to her, one that was at times half
guessed — the accusing finger of her youth, some-
times barely discerned through the mist of lost
desires. To escape these momentary exposures
she had often swung the blindness of an anger
that was directed as much at herself as at Carl.
The father, however, had obliterated his past self
with a more jovial carelessness and had stolen
the consoling fumes of many taverns, so that he
felt little need for the shrouds of loud noise.
"Well, at least you showed good sense in coming
through the back way," he said, looking at his
son with a mixture of wonder and humorous con-
tempt. "You would have made a fine sight for
the neighbors on the front steps ! We would never
have heard the last of it. Noo, noo, what did you
come back for? If it's just to play your old tricks
again, you can walk right out of here, I tell you.
I'll stand for no more nonsense from you. Turn
over a new leaf and you're welcome here, but no
more of your writing, and fancy talk, and high
"Look at him," said MrsT Felman. "Sits there
like a piece of wood! Have you nothing to say
for yourself? Why, you haven't told us how-do-
you-do. Inhuman! I don't see how I ever gave
birth to such a creature as you."
Carl had been sitting like a stone figure, dressed
by the playful passerby known as Life and yet
absolutely void of life. His mute indifference had
seduced all suggestions of flesh from him and
even his blonde beard and hair seemed pasted
upon an effigy. Finally the clever semblance of
emotion returned to his body and sent an experi-
mental tremble to see whether the flesh was
prepared to receive another animated disguise.
His hands twitched as though they were striving
to overcome their paralysis in an effort to obey
some powerful signal. As he listened to the jerky
tirades of his parents — sterility seeking to regain
a fertility by the use of a staccato voice — part
of him wanted to cringe and win the convulsive
shield of tears, while another part longed to bound
from the insipid, brittle room and glide aimlessly
into the night. The cringing mountebank, unfairly
aided by physical fatigue, won this inner skirmish,
and Carl decided to silence the anger of his parents
by speaking to them in a way that would make
them bewildered, since bewilderment is but a shade
removed from frightened respect. It was the only
pitiful little stunt that could offer him a small
respite from the poverties of noise that were
assailing him — the favorite purchase of Indian
medicine-men, Druid priests, circus barkers and
other childlike charlatans.
"You see, the situation has been complicated,"
he answered slowly, with the voice of a loftily-
enervated teacher. "Complicated. I have tried
to save a possible poet from death — always a
noble but redundant proceeding — but it seems
that his skin must burn. I've come back now
to make his coffin and stud it with gold. Gold
would seem to be a favorite metal of yours, my
dear parents. Surely you will be satisfied now.
And it is also possible that you may help me with
the funeral arrangements, since this burial, unlike
plebeian ones, may extend over several years.
And what else do you want me to say? I have
so many acrobatic words and they would love to
perform for you, but I am tired to-night. True,
I am a rascal. Can you forget that embarrassing
challenge for one evening?"
He broke his stonelike repose into one forward
motion as he leaned toward his parents, turning
upon them the prominently somnolent eyes that
had been the sole gift from his father's face, and
smiling like an exhausted but lightly poised angel.
His parents were stunned, for their indignant
assurance had suddenly recoiled from an unex-
pected, blank wall. They could not quite under-
stand his words and yet they felt that he was
mocking them. The gracious glibness of his voice
dwarfed them with the mystery of its meanings.
This monster was not ashamed of himself — what
could it signify? But, after all, it was rather
difficult to be angry at a man when you were not
quite sure whether his words were flattering or
sneers. Carl rose abruptly from the chair. Now
he controlled the situation for a time. He kissed
his mother's forehead lightly and smiled at his
"I'm tired and hungry," he said. "A little food
and sleep will fix me up, though, and to-morrow
I'll look for work of some kind."
"Crazy, crazy, just like he always was," said
his father, turning away with a partly appeased
and patient manner. After all, one must give the
proper blend of pity and tolerance to one who is
The face of his mother held a virtuous impa-
tience that made her large nose go up and down
like a see-saw, and on the see-saw a dash of
reluctant tenderness rode.
"I'll get you something from the ice-box," she
said. "You're still so young — twenty-two you'll
be next week — and we may yet live to be proud
of you. If you'll only get rid of your funny
writing notions and your stealing ideas. My God,
what a combination!"
Afterwards, as Carl ate, they sat at the kitchen
table with him. Mrs. Felman was tall and strong,
with a body on which plumpness and angles met
in a transfigured prizefight of lines. The long
narrowness of her face was captured by a steep
nose slightly hooked at the top and her thin lips
were not unlike the relics of a triumphant sneer.
Even when they tried to be satisfied they never
quite lost their expression of tight gloating.
Above her high cheek-bones her eyes were bitter
tensions of light, and a remnant of greyish-brown
hair receded from the moderate and indented rise
of her forehead. Her skin, once pink, was now
roughly florid, like a petal on which many boots
have been scraped and cleaned. Mr. Felman was
her violent refutation. Short and hampered by
plumpness, the large roundness of his face held
the smirking emphasis of a greyish-red mous-
tache, huge and clipped at the ends. His thick
lips blossomed uncompromisingly over his fair
double chin, and his low forehead, madly scratched
by a plowman, stood between the abrupt curve
of his small nose and a ruff of dark red hair
pestered by grey. An expression of carelessly
earthly humor, banqueting on shallowness, fitted
snugly upon his face and only his eyes, bulging
with sleep, brought a metaphysical contradiction.
He watched his son with a lazy, half -curious pity.
"Noo, what have you been doing all this time?"
"I left the army a year ago. You know, I wrote
to you then and found out that you still lived
here. That was very kind of me, I'm sure. Since
then I've knocked about in different towns. Sleep
and work, work and sleep — the twin brothers of
"Ye-es, still using long words, the twin brothers
of something or other," said Mrs. Felman, with a
light disapproval. "Learn to talk and act like
other people and you'll be better off. I used to
think a little different when I was young, but
believe me, you can't get along by just dreaming
and talking to yourself. The trouble with you is
that you got a lot of fancy words and no get-up."
"Philosophical discourse number sixty-two,"
answered Carl, in the drowsily chanting voice of
a train announcer. "Or have I lost count of them ?
Your life hasn't made you very happy, mother,
and perhaps that's why your arguments are lack-
ing in the swagger of conviction. Or perhaps you
think that it's best to be unhappy, and in that
case I agree with you."
"Well, I wouldn't lower myself by trying to
argue with you," said Mrs. Felman. "I'm per-
fectly right in everything I say, but I simply
don't know how to fiddle with words like you do."
"Have you still got those poetry ideas in your
head?" asked Mr. Felman. "Poetry is no business
for a strong, grownup man. It's a lot of foolish-
ness good for women and children!"
"If you could write things that make money
now," said Mrs. Felman. "Why, only the other
day Mrs. Benjamin was telling me she has a
cousin who writes love stories for the Daily
Gazette. Nice stories that make you laugh and
cry. And this girl gets twenty dollars apiece for
"Now, now, don't be trying to encourage him
again," said Mr. Felman. "Ain't we had enough
trouble over this writing of his ? Let him go out
and get a regular job, like other men!"
Carl laughed, and his laugh was like an emotion
interviewed by carbolic acid, and his parents eyed
him with an offended surprise.
"Still squabbling over the bones," he said, with
a sarcastic apathy. "If you were more delicate
you might realize that it is inappropriate to argue
at a funeral. I'm only a tongue-tied fool, but I
seem very elusively inarticulate to you because
you're even more tongue-tied. And now, as usual,
you haven't understood a word of what I've said."
"Well, you don't have to laugh at your parents,"
said Mrs. Felman, with an air of pin-pricked
dignity. "iTou never did show any respect for us,
in spite of all that we've done for you. Never."
"Say, Carrie, you'll have to get a suit for him.
Something cheap, you know, at Pearlman's," said
the father. "He'll never get a job in those rags
"Money, money," said Mrs. Felman in a mechan-
ically mournful voice. "All I do is spend money.
The sound of an opening door invaded the flat
tom-tom of their talk.
"It's Al Levy," said Mrs. Felman, with fear in
her voice. "It would be a shame now if he saw
Carl in this condition. Hurry, hurry, Carl, to the
bathroom before he comes in here. Your father's
razor is on the shelf and I'll get you a clean shirt
from the ones you left behind. Maybe they still
fit you, as I was always careful to buy them a
size too large."
Carl felt like an ignoble marionette who was
being hastily mended behind the curtain for fear
that he might cast ridicule upon the sleekly-
vacant play, and his emotions were evenly divided
between amusement and contempt. Driving his
heart and mind into a fitting blankness, he closed
the bathroom door. Levy had a room in the
Felman apartment and they treated him with
an unctuous respect that almost verged upon
an Oriental self-abasement. He was a man of
twenty-six who worked for a wealthy uncle,
received a large salary, and polished and scrubbed
the limited essentials of a semi-professional man-
about-town, with minor chorus girls and gamblers
helping him to flatter microscopically the fatigue
donated by his daily labors.
"Be very friendly to Al, please," said Mrs. Fel-
man, as they all sat around the dining-room table.
"He's a very smart man — works in the mail-order
business, selling cheap jewelry to country people,
and makes a pile of money. His seven dollars a
week come in mighty handy to us, I can tell you."
"Dammit, all business is going good except
whiskey," said Mr. Felman, as though he were
inviting an elusive conspiracy to share the firm-
ness of his tones. "These prohibition fanatics are
ruining everything. The saloon-keepers are all
afraid they're gonna be closed up, and they won't
buy. I haven't sold a barrel in two days. I don't
know what the world's coming to with all these
here prohibitions People are entirely too busy
telling each other what to do, and nobody minds
his own business any more. . . . Well, anyway,
Carl, there's still sample bottles for you to swipe
from my overcoat pockets."
He said the last words with a bearish joviality,
and had the expression of a bear who has paddled
to within a mile of irony and is sniffing at the
"Sol, don't remind me of his old wildness," said
Mrs. Felman, with a peevish dread. "I still
remember the time when he staggered along the
sidewalk in front of all the neighbors. Is there
anything bad that he hasn't done, I want to
One evening, just before running away from
home, Carl had taken some tiny bottles of whiskey
from his father's overcoat, without curiosity, but
longing for the feeling of sly self-assurance that
had balanced his blood from former sneaking sips.
He had repaired with the bottles to a neighboring
public park and emptied them in swiftly nervous
gulps, enjoying the vastly kinglike sneer at the
world which had brushed aside his melancholy
"I am a poet!" he had cried out to the mur-
muring patience of the trees around him, "and
fools will some day gape along my road, and the
open circles of their mouths will be like the rims
of beggars' cups. My voice will rise above the
dreamless clink of their coins and they will stop
and look at me, as though I were a pilgrim-
problem. An angry amazement will lend its little
catastrophe to their faces. Yes, I will drop beauty
to them, in clearly abundant handfuls, and they
will sit quarreling over its value and tossing me
an occasional penny. But I will never stop to
join their discourses. My feet will be lighter than
breezes and more direct. I am a poet, and the
world is stagnation that I must ever torment !"
He had lurched back to the Felman apartment,
"dropping beauty" with an incisive exuberance to
the astonished neighbors seated around the door-
step, and commanding them to examine his gifts.
As he sat at the dining-room table now, he remem-
bered this episode, and similar ones, with a gust
of half-rebellious shame.
"This has been my only triumph so far — a
whiskey bottle raised beneath the stars, on a
summer evening, and reigning over an idle riot
of words," he said to himself with an exhausted
self-hatred. "Am I going to be contented with
this thwarted joke? And yet "
Levy stepped into the room and provided a
slightly unwelcome ending to this secret sentence.
Short and slender, his blue serge suit clinging to
him like an emblem of shrewd victory, he made
an excellent period to the labors of thought. Upon
his small, light tan face a twirled-up black mous-
tache curved to a diminutive swagger and his
bending nose seemed to be vainly attempting to
caress the moustache — an unnecessary affirmation.
His black eyes incessantly drove little bargains
beneath the shine of his black hair.
"H'llo, folks," he chirruped, smiling with an
automatic ease at the Felmans. Then he noticed
Carl and looked at him with polite surprise.
The father and mother regarded each other
with a despondent indecision, dreading the
thought of introducing their drolly disreputable
son to this shining symbol of an outside world
and hating the undeserved appearance of inferior-
ity which had been thrown upon them. This queer
son had cast his shadow upon their assured and
humbly conservative position in life — in a world
of decently balanced regularities. Their ability at
loquacious pretense took up the burden with a
"This is my son Carl," said Mr. Felman, with
a prodigiously uneasy grin tickling the roundness
of his face. "Carl, this is Al Levy. You've heard
us talking of him, Al. He's just come back from
the army — surprised his old parents, you know."
"Glad to meet you, I'm sure," said Levy, with
an expert affability beneath which he exercised
his disdain for Carl's patched-up appearance and
his inkling of the actual situation.
He complimented a chair at the table briskly;
or, in other words, he sat down, employing a great
condescension of limbs. He and Felman began an
uncouth debate concerning the respective selling
merits of whiskey and cheap jewelry, while Carl
listened, bored and a little sick at the stomach.
Words to these men were crudely unveiled mis- ?
tresses, selling their favors for whatever hasty
coin might be thrown on the table. Levy turned
"How did you like the army?" he asked, with
a lightly superior kindliness,
Carl nervously wondered what he should answer
and bickered with his desire to return a curt
indifference to this vaguely garnished mannikin.
He decided to annoy the limited mind of the man
in front of him and take a comforting wraith of
revenge from this result — his customary device
for such situations, always used to evade a lan-
guage which he did not care to simulate. The
physical nearness of people made him snarl, for
then his imagination found it more difficult to
trifle with their outlines, and he would strive to
drive them away with insult.
"The army is a colorless workshop, where men
can forget their past and avoid gambling with
their future," he said, in an aloofly professorial
voice. "All of the hurried and obedient move-
ments of a day in the army, like a little drove of
dazed foxes, prevent a man from fully realizing
his own insignificance, and at night there is
always a nearby city in which the sorrowful
illusion can be captured again. Oh, yes, the army
is an excellent prison for men to whom life holds
a fixed horizon — men whose hearts and minds
have reduced curiosity to an ashen foothold."
Levy's brows bent to an unfamiliar process and
perplexity slowly loosened his lips, but a feeling
of irritated pride made him determined not to
show his confusion to one whom he looked upon
as a demented and windy subordinate. He knew
that this "fancy fool" was attempting to parade
a superior knowledge of English, thus creating a
counterfeit of wisdom.
"Oh, I don't think that the army is as bad as
all that," he said, in a glibly hurried voice, trying
to assume an attitude of careless disagreement.
"I was a sergeant-major once in the National
Guard, down in Tennessee, and we had a pretty-
good time of it, I'll tell you. It gave us all a
splendid muscle and fine appetite, and it taught
us to obey the commands of our superior officers
without hesitating. You know, in life you've got ■ ,
to follow the orders of someone who knows /
more than you do, or you'll never get anywhere.
Besides, we had a lot of intelligent men in our
outfit. Why, my company commander was one
of the best lawyers in Nashville."
"My planet is somewhat distant from yours. I
was barely able to hear you," said Carl, amusedly.
"Still, that doesn't mean that either of us is
better or worse than the other. Your eyes are
contented with what they see and mine are not.
But it would not be very important to tell you
of things that you have never missed."
Levy became involved in his cigarette smoking
while he futilely asked his mind for an adequate
and unconcerned retort. Mrs. Felman sensed his
annoyance and felt hugely angry at her son for
"not getting in right" with this splendid young
business-man and for speaking in a manner that
was mysteriously and trivially vexing.
"Ach, Carl always talks just like a hero in aT
story," she said, in an agitated effort at humorous >
masquerade and hoping to smooth over the errors
made by her freakish son. "Don't pay no attention
to him. I can never understand him myself."
Levy, once more completely the successful man
to his own vision, forgot the bite of the beetle, and
turned to the elder Felman.
"How about a little game of rummy?"
"Carrie, get the cards," Felman answered, in
quick tones of bright relief. "Carl will play — he
always was a rummy shark and he never changes
in anything. Such a stubborn boy! I bet you
that forty years from now he'll be just as foolish
as he ever was."
"Your optimism concerning the length of my
life intrigues me," said Carl.
Ten-cent pieces were placed on the table and
the cards were shuffled. To the other two men
the card game would have lacked interest without
the money to be battled for, not because of the
tiny gain involved, but because their desires for
relaxation were lacking in spontaneity and needed
the pettily deliberate strokes of a familiar whip
to encourage their birth. Whenever, on rare occa-
sions, they romped upon some lawn, tossing a ball
to a child, or read the lurid clumsinesses of some
magazine, they showed a sheepish hesitation and
hazily felt that they were wasting time that
belonged to the shrewd importance of barter and
exchange. The presence of a coin upon a table,
however, held a glint of the missing coquette.
They swore elaborately and interminably at lost
hands — "that queen would have given it to me"
—flung down the paper oblongs with a tense ela-
tion when they were winning, and enjoyed the
presence of a milder but still keen market-place.
The gambling instinct is never anything more
than the desire to seduce an artificial uncertainty
from a life that has grown mildewed and pre-
arranged — the monotone must be circumvented
with little, straining devices. It pleased Carl to
imitate the motions of the other two men, out-
witting them at their own small game while still
remaining a repulsed bystander, and sneaking a
morsel of enjoyment from their genuine dismay
at some defeat. After several games had been
played the father yawned mightily, creating a
noise that sounded like a Mississippi River steam-
boat whistle heard at a distance, poignant and
full-throated. Perhaps with this yawn his soul
signaled a complaint against the disgrace which
this day had cast upon it — a nightly remonstrance
unheard by his mind and heart. Levy, subdued
and impressed by Carl's card-playing abilities,
pelted him with commonplaces which he tried to
make as genial as possible, and Carl, too sleepy
to be belligerent or aloof, gave him softly vague
responses. Mrs. Felman, for the first time, looked
out with heavy peace from behind the crinkling
newspaper where she had been placidly nibbling
at the perfumed logics of a latest divorce scandal.
Her son had finally redeemed the evening by
exhibiting a small but ordinary proficiency which
drew him a little nearer to the dully efficient level
of mankind, and her reflections upon his material
future became a shade less hopeless.
At an early hour on the following morning she
hurried Carl to the business section of the city
so that the neighboring women, who slept late
after getting breakfast for their men, would not
see him from their windows, and at a department
store she purchased a cheap suit of clothes for
him. He dressed behind a small screen in the
store, feeling like a small, eccentric lamb who was
being glossed for the market. She left him at an
elevated railroad station, extracting a dollar from
her pocketbook with an air of intensely solemn
and reflective importance.
"Don't waste it now; I know your tricks," she
said. "Be sure and get the afternoon paper and
look through the want ads. Take anything at the
start — don't be high-toned."
Carl gave her the necessary monosyllables of
assent and walked down the street, his mind busy
with many insinuations.
"Perhaps I'd better stop stealing for a while,"
he said to himself. "If I keep it up without an
intermission it's going to land me in jail again
and I'm not anxious for that circumscribed trav-
esty to happen. That term of three months in
Texas gave me a great deal of time in which to
write, but the little animals in that place intruded
with a bite that was both wistful and inadequate.
It's a little difficult to write about beauty and
scratch your skin simultaneously — the proud stare
of the former does not like to sit in the prison
of a small irritation. It is an intricately adjusted
equilibrium and the lunge of a finger nail can
desecrate this subtly balanced aloofness. There
is little difference between the bars of mind and
actual iron rods, but when you are still partly
inarticulate, physical motion can become a neces-
sary recompense. No, for the time being I had
better strain my hands in prayer against the tiny
implements with which men felicitate their stupid-
ity. Back and forth — but what else can I do?"
It was his habit to think only in metaphors and
V ' similes, and in this way he evaded the realities
that would otherwise have crushed him. He
walked down the street, practicing an emotion of
stolid submission, and this surface humility
played pranks with his blonde-topped head and
made his thin lips loosely unrelated to the rest
of his face. As he strode through the business
district of the city, with its sun-steeped frenzies
of men and vehicles, the scene pressed upon him
and yet was remote at the same time. It was as
though he were studying a feverishly capering
unreality and vainly striving to persuade himself
that he formed a significant part of it.
The unrelenting roar of automobiles, wagons
and cars became the laughable and inarticulate
attempt of a dream to convince him that it held
a power over his mind and body. Men and women
darted past him with a rapidity that made them
appear to be the mere figments of a magic trick.
Here he caught the thick tension of lips, and
there the abstracted flash of eyes, but they were
gone before he could believe that they had inter-
fered with his vision. He paused beside a dark
green news-stand squeezed under the iron slant
of an elevated-railroad stairway and strove to pin
the scene to his mind and fix his relation to the
people who were jesting with his eyes. Young and
old, dressed in complications of timidly colored
cloth, each seemed to be running an exquisitely
senseless race in the effort to gain a nonsensical
foot on the other person. The masked rush of
their bodies deprived them of a divided sexual
appearance and lure — men and women, touching
elbows without emotion, were swept into one
lustreless sex which darted in pursuit of a treach-
erously invisible reward. The entire structure
around them — buildings, signs, and iron slabs —
stood like a house of cards carefully supported by
an essence that rose from the rushing people, and
Carl felt that if these men and women were to
become silent and motionless, in unison, the house
of cards would instantly lose its meaning and
"What are they gliding and stumbling toward ?"
he asked himself — the old, poignantly futile first
question of youth. "Each man, with an ingenious
treason, is trying to forget his inability at self-
expression and soiling the void with an increasing
burden that will prevent him from complaining too
much. At some time in their lives all of these
people felt, dimly or strongly, for a moment or
for years, the ludicrous ache of a desire to stand
out clearly against their scene, but the loaded
momentum of past lives — the choked influence of
past futilities — pushed them along with a force
which they could not withstand. It is really a
stream of adroitly dead men and women that is
fleeing down this street — surreptitiously dead
people living in the bodies of a present reality and
perpetuating the defeated essence of their past
As he stood and watched the crowd he found it
necessary to ask himself the words: "What gave
its slyly amused signal for this plaintive race
through the centuries?"
He also found it necessary to answer: "A
languid idiot, much in need of consolation,
refuses to abandon his dream."
Here and there, apart from the main lunge of
the crowd, were men and women, standing still,
as though motion had betrayed them, or loitering
in a carelessly placid fashion. Vacancy and inde-
cision tampered with most of their faces.
"How many minor poets have stood upon these
street corners, making arrangements for a gradual
and unnoticed death ?" he asked himself, with the
sentimental self-importance of youth.
But the stage hands clamored that he was neg-
lecting the play — a habit falsely known as laziness
— and that, with appropriate cunning, they had
erected this city scene so that he and hordes of
others should find it difficult to forget their tamely
borrowed lines. With an uncomplaining wrench
he returned to his surface role of a youth sent
out in weakly gruesome clothes to look for some
task that would begin to answer the flatly strident
requests of an average life. The humble stupor
fell back upon his shoulders and he walked to a
bench in a public square, seated himself, and read
the "want-ad" section of a newspaper. He spied,
with a prostrate frown, the barren jest of:
"Wanted — Young man for clerical work ; must be
neat, industrious, wide-awake, sober, well edu-
cated, reliable, good at details, ambitious, honest,
painstaking; salary twelve dollars a week." He
muttered certain useless words to himself. "The
illusion of a reluctant penny for fresh vigor. If
the applicant is morbidly patient and reasonably
deft at following orders he may after many years
attain the virtue of writing the same trivially
unfair appeal to other men. And even that
exquisite victory is uncertain."
He saw that as usual his only choice rested
between an office-boy's task, dignified by the title
of junior clerk to make it more enticing, and
unskilled manual labor.
"Now, how will you become tired — mentally or
physically?" he asked himself with great for-
Abruptly, and in that conscious and secret plot
which men insist upon calling subconscious, he
peered at the picture of a black man and a white
man throwing a wilted rose back and forth to
each other and catching it without a trace of
emotion. The little, ridiculous rose lost a petal
after each catch, but in spite of its smallness
the number of petals seemed to be inexhaustible.
At a distance the black and white man exactly
resembled each other, but on approaching closer
it could be seen that the black man held the face
of an incredibly stolid ruffian, while the white
man's face was engraved with the patience of a
cowed child. Not being acquainted with psycho-
analysis — that blind exaggeration of sexual
routines — Carl did not believe, after he returned
to the touch of the park bench, that this picture
had slyly veiled the direction of his physical
desires. He knew that a fantastic whim had
slipped from his mind and induced him to probe,
his choice between two equally drab kinds of
labor, striving to make this choice endurable for
He selected three advertisements, all of them
asking for manual laborers, walked from the park,
and boarded a street car. The first place that he
visited was a box factory — a slate-colored crate
of a building, bearing that flatly unexpectant tone
that expresses the year-long mating of smoke and
dirt. As he ascended the gloomy stairway an
endless drone and clatter battled with his ears.
It seemed a senseless blasphemy directed at noth-
ing in particular — the complaint of a dull-witted,
harnessed giant who was being driven on without
knowing why. Carl entered a huge room dishev-
eled with sawdust and shavings and cluttered with
black belts and wheels. Men with swarthy,
motionless faces and feverish arms leaned over the
wheels and saws. As he stood near the doorway,
feeling dwarfed and uncertain, a man came toward
him. Sturdy and short, the man looked like a
magnified and absent-minded gnome, too busy to
realize that civilization had played an obscene
trick on him by stealing his fairy disguise and
substituting the colorless inanities of overalls and
a black shirt. The large and heavily twisted fea-
tures on his face were partially hidden by a brown
stubble of beard, and like all men who work for-
ever in factories, he had an ageless air in which
youth, middle age and old age were pounded into
one dull evasion.
"What d'ya want?" he asked, the words jumbled
to a bark.
"I'm looking for work. Saw your ad in the
He examined the region between Carl's toes and
cap, measuring the unimportance of flesh.
"We want good strong men to load boxes and
carry lumber," he said. "You don't look like a
man for the job, bo. You're dressed like a travelin'
salesman an' we want men who ain't afraid to
get dirt on their clothes. Get me?"
"Don't mind this suit of mine," said Carl. "I
have a much dirtier one at home and I'll be only
too glad to wear it here. You see, I always feel
more peaceful in dirty clothes, but someone played
a joke on me and made me wear this suit."
"Well, you ought to come ready for work, if
you're lookin' for it" — the man peered again at
"Nope. Nope. You ain't got the build for
heavy work. We're after big, husky men. Sorry,
Jack, but there's nothin' doin'."
"Say, be reasonable," said Carl. "Fve done hard
work off and on for the last four years and I'm
much stronger than I look. Come on, give me a
The man shook his head as his eyes received
Carl's slender arms and narrow shoulders, and he
did not know that this weak aspect concealed an
inhuman amount of endurance. After another
useless expostulation Carl walked out, grinning
forlornly as he strode down the street. Cheated
out of the phantom opiate of a beautiful box-
piling job because of a deceptive physical appear-
ance and a twenty-dollar suit, reduced to nineteen
through the expert pleading of his mother! He
looked down with delicate aversion at the grey,
neatly-pressed cloth which concealed his material
humility with lines of dreamless confidence, and
felt a sudden impulse to tear it off and go nakedly
cavorting down the street, taking the cries of
onlookers as a suitable reward, but that sleek
caution born from rough faces and rougher
hands chided him back to sanity. After calling at
another factory and receiving the same refusal,
he decided to wait until the morrow, when he
could don his old, dirty clothes and avert sus-
The city turmoil was slackening, like a huge,
human top beginning to spin weakly. The warm
hardness of a summer evening between city
streets tried a little laughter in an unpracticed
voice, and revolving streams of men and women
hid the pavements — a satiated army returning
from an unsettled conflict. The scene was a mixed
metaphor trying to straighten itself out. Feeling
forlornly alert and useless in the midst of all this
important exhaustion, Carl made his way home.
A group of neighbors sat with a clean and
well-brushed peace around the doorstep. In the
heat of the summer evening they seemed mere
figures of slightly animated flesh, with their
thoughts and emotions reduced to placidly con-
tented wraiths. Three middle-aged Jewish women
sat in rocking chairs and knitted with an effortless
incision, unaware of the spiritual prominence that
is usually discovered in their race. Their bulky-
bodies censured the lightness of evening air and
their deeply-marked brown faces were those of
self-assured, thoughtless queens issuing orders to
a tiny domain, with palmetto fans for scepters and
rhinestone combs for crowns. Incessantly they
chatted about the personal details of their daily
lives, splitting these details into even smaller
atoms and fondling the minute particles with a
lazy relish. Children romped at their feet or
brought some tiny request to their laps — children
that seemed to be dreams of cherubic hilarity,
released from the busy sleep of the middle-aged
women and reproving it. Behind them, sitting
on the stone steps, a middle-aged Jewish man
glued his depressed weariness to a newspaper.
The orderly sleekness of his clothes had met with
the familiarity of a summer day and the rim of
his once stiff collar, drenched with perspiration,
made a pathetic curve around his fat, brown neck.
His eyes were like fiat discs of metal placed on
each side of an enormous, confident nose. Noses
express the spirit of people far better than lips
and eyes, for they cannot be moved and changed
to suit the fears and desires of a person, but
stand with an outline of uncompromising reveal-
ment. Their still silence is often the only sincerity
upon a human face, and the nose of this man
showed a strident green that was contradicted a
bit by the drooping little indentations just above
the nostrils, indicating that the man had his
moments of self-doubt, but refused to yield to
It seemed incredible to Carl that these people
were housing hearts and minds, for he could see
them only as so many sterile lumps of flesh that
were using every desperate trick to minimize the
crawling shadow of their unimportant graves.
Two of the women knew him and greeted him
with an insincere and inquisitive cordiality.
"Wh-y-y, Mister Felman, when did you get
back?" said Mrs. Rosenthal, the fattest of the
"I returned yesterday," answered Carl, injecting
a great solemnity into his voice.
"Yesterday? Well, well. And did you have a
nice time in the army? I've been told that it's
really marvelous for a man — makes him so strong
and healthy. And then all the traveling about,
you know, must be so interesting."
"Oh, ye-e-es, it's a wonderful place," said Carl,
gravely mimicking her drawling voice. "Bands,
and uniforms, and parades. It's really quite fasci-
"Well, I'm so glad you liked it," said Mrs. Ben-
jamin, another woman in the group, who felt that
it was time to advance a well-placed sentence. "I
want you to meet my husband. Mo, this is Mister
Felman, who's just come back from the army."
"Glad t' meet yuh," said the man on the door-
step, blurring the words in a swiftly mechanical
fashion, but looking very closely at Carl.
Carl returned the salutation in the same fashion,
taking a shade of amusement from his parrot-
like impulse. These hollow creatures — what else
could one do save to imitate their mannerisms and
ideas, for self-protection, and rob and defraud
them at every opportunity, thus giving them a
mild apology for existence? After another round
of wary commonplaces he managed to break away.
His mother met him at the door and he said
"Hello" and was about to pass her when her sharp
voice halted him.
"You haven't got an ounce of affection in you!
A nice way to greet your mother! Hello, and he
walks right by like I was some boy he met on the
For a moment Carl stood without answering.
This woman who had given birth to him — an
incomprehensible chuckle of an incident — was
almost non-existent to his emotions — a mere
shadow that held an incongruously raucous voice
and guarded one of the gates of his surface prison.
As he stood in the hallway, doubting the reality
of her shrill voice, he asked himself: "Am I an
inhuman monster, unfit to touch this woman's
dress, or am I a poet standing with candid erect-
ness in an alien situation ?"
Suddenly the question became unimportant to
him and he felt that he had merely offered his
inevitable self the choice between an imaginary
halo and an equally fantastic strait- jacket. If his
mother actually longed for an affection which he
did not hold, it would be inexpensive to toss her
the counterfeit coins of gestures and words. When
she finished her staccato diatribe, he bowed deeply
to her, with the palm of one hand lightly interro-
gating the buttons of his coat, raised her hand
to his lips, and kissed it at great length.
"Na-a, go away with your silliness," she said.
"I know you don't mean it."
Her narrow face loosened for a moment and a
shimmer of compensation found her eyes. This
queer son of hers might be faintly realizing, after
all, the unselfish intensity of her efforts to give
him a position of honor and respectability in the
world. Perhaps he was only wild and young, and
would finally press his shoulders against the
admired harness of material success. It could not
be possible that one who had struggled from her
flesh would remain a remote idiot and ignore the
warm shrewdness within her that life had some-
The elder Felman was reading his paper in the
dining-room. He greeted Carl with a somnolent
imitation of interest, but the heat, aided by a
day spent in pungent saloons, had cheated him
of most of his mental consciousness. He had
Decome so thoroughly accustomed to drink that
an artificial buoyancy scarcely ever invaded the
dull ending of his days.
"We-e-ell, where did you go to-day?" he asked,
feeling some slight craving for sound and trying
to rouse his material anticipations.
He abandoned his seductive newspaper, with its
melodrama that was pleasant because it murdered
at a distance, and questioned Carl with his sleepy
"Went to a couple of factories, but the foremen
were disgusted with the cut of my clothes," said
Carl. "They felt that the wearing of a new and
unwrinkled suit revealed an intelligence which
should not be possessed by an applicant for manual
labor. I tried to convince them that the semblance
was false in my case, but they refused to be
"Always trying to joke. That won't get you
anything. The main thing is — did you get work,
or didn't you?"
"No, I did not. I applied for manual labor, but
I forgot to put on overalls."
Mrs. Felman stood in the doorway and lifted a
skillet in simple wrath.
"Factories he goes to !" she cried, in a voice that
was not unlike the previous rattling of the skillet.
"I bought him a new suit and shoes this morning
so he could look for common, dirty work! It's
terrible. Here we sent him to high-school for
four years and his only ambition is to work as a
The father smiled dubiously at her explosion.
"Now, Carrie, don't let all the neighbors know
your business," he said. "Your holler is enough
to drive anyone crazy. There's no harm in honest
work, Carrie, and besides he'll soon get tired of
sweating in factories and look for something
decent. Don't worry."
"I guess anything will be better than that silly
scribbling that's ruined his life so far," said Mrs.
Felman, her anger dwindling to a guttural sulki-
ness. Carl, who had been sitting with a suffering
grin on his face, gave them soothing words and
once more held them at arm's length.
In the dirty clothes that he had worn upon his
arrival, qualified by a clean shirt, he went forth
on the next morning and found work as a line-
man's helper for a telephone company. He was
required to climb up the wooden poles ; hand tools
to the lineman ; unwind huge spools of wire ; make
simple repairs under the lineman's guidance.
As he labored from pole to pole, down a suburban
street, taking the impersonal whip of the sun and
winning the pricks of insects on his sweat-dappled
face, he felt dully grateful toward the physical
orders that were crudely obliterating the con-
fused demands of his heart and mind. As he
toiled on, this dull feeling gradually rose to a self-
lacerating joy. He revelled in the cheap vexa-
tions brought by his tasks — the unpleasant scrap-
ing of shins against iron rungs and the sting of
dust in his eyes — and his self-hatred stood apart,
delightedly watching the slavish antics of the
Then, when this emotion paused to catch its
breath it was replaced by a calmer one, and his
insignificance receded a bit, beneath the substan-
tial lure of arms and legs that were moving
toward a fixed purpose. "I am doing something
definite now and that is at least a shade better
than the indefinite uselessness of my thoughts,"
he mumbled to himself as he lurched from pole
to pole. The slowly mounting ache of his muscles
became a bitter hint of approaching peace and
he looked forward to the moment when he would
quit his labors and enjoy the returning inde-
pendence of his body, as though it were a god's
condescension. He worked quickly and breath-
lessly, as one who hurries to a distant lover's
arms. Filled with a doggedly naive hatred for
his own deficiencies, he welcomed this chance
to insult them with disagreeable and infinitely
humble postures, and he gladly punished him-
self underneath the violence of the sun. It was,
indeed, a spiritual sadism deigning to make use
of the flesh.
"Hey, Jack, take it a little easier," the lineman
called down to him once. "Don't kill yourself at
this job. It's too damned hot to work hard."
Carl gave him a beaten grin and moved his
arms even faster while the lineman bewilderedly
meditated upon this imbecility. The lineman was
a burly young Swede with a broadly upturned
nose and thickly wide lips. His face suggested
poorly carved wood. The blankness of his mind
held few skirmishes with thought on this rasping
afternoon and his mental images were confined
to tools, stray glasses of beer, yielding pillows,
and feminine contours — the flitting promises that
held him to his day of toil. He possessed no
human significance to Carl — he was a drably acci-
dental automaton who shouted down the blessed
orders that gave Carl little time for definite
thoughts and emotions: an unconscious helper in
the flogging of mind and soul.
As they walked down the street after the day's
work Carl looked closely at him for the first time.
Sweat and dirt were violating the youthful out-
lines of his face, and his small blue eyes were
contracted and deeply sunk as though still direct-
ing the movements of his arms. The blunt
strength of his body sagged beneath the color-
lessness of clothes and his head was wearily bent
forward — the grey frenzies of a civilization had
exacted their daily tribute and it is possible that
he was not aware of the glory and impressiveness
which certain poets find in his cringing role. For
a time Carl looked at him with an exhausted
friendliness and felt tied to him by the intimate
bonds of confessing sweat and conquered toil, and
this illusion did not vanish until he spoke.
"Me for beer and somethin' to eat," he said,
with heavy anticipation. "A day shust like this '11
take the guts outa any man. Come along, Jack,
I'll stand treat for the suds. . . . An' say, lemme
give ya a tip — don't overwork yourself out on
this job. It don't pay. You won't get a cent
more at the end of the week. Do whatcha gotta
do but take it kinda easy. Kinda easy. The boss
is too busy most of the time to notice who's doin'
the most work an' unless you loaf on the job you
can get by without killin' yourself."
The complacent roughness of his voice, divided
by the shallow wisdoms of the underdog, destroyed
the feeling of tired communion which Carl had
been sheltering, and his exhaustion began to creep
apart from the man, like a tottering aristocrat.
He was once more a proudly baffled creator, shuf-
fling along after a day of useless movements, and
his hatred for human beings awoke from its short
sleep and brandished a sneer on his loose and dirt-
He walked into a corner saloon with Petersen
and gulped down a glass of beer. Its cool interior
kiss aroused a bit of vigor within him and he
looked around at the men who were amiably fight-
ing to place their elbows on the imitation mahog-
any bar. Their faces were relaxed and soiled,
heavily betraying the aftermath of a day of toil,
and an expression of brief elation teased their
faces as they swallowed the beer and whiskey and
licked their lips. After each drink they stood with
blustering indecision, like generals striving to for-
get a menial dream and regain their command of
an army, or quietly tried to erase the blunders and
supplications of a day, seeking nothing save the
solace of lazy conversation and weakly clownish
arguments. The strained, corrupt clamor of
voices debating over women, prize-fighters, and
money swayed back and forth and was timidly
disputed by the whir of electric-fans and the clink
of glasses. A wave of sleepy carelessness stormed
Carl as he watched these men. Inevitably thrown
in with them, as a sacrifice to a dubious reality,
he felt inclined to copy their actions and inanely
insult his actual self, since at this moment all
words and gestures seemed equally futile to him.
"What essential difference is there between a
poet, boasting of his reputation, and a workman
bragging about the women who have allowed him
to molest their bodies ?" he asked himself, forcing
the question out of the drained limpness of his
mind. "The poet has taught better manners to
his vanity, with many an inquisitive artifice,
while the other man is more natural and clumsy."
Petersen's voice interrupted the soliloquy.
"Come on, have another."
"Make it whiskey this time," said Carl to the
bartender. "I'll pay for this one, Petersen."
"Keep your money, keep it," answered Petersen,
warmed by his beers to an insistent generosity.
"I got plenty of it. But say, I'll be a little shorter
in kale tuhnight when Katie gets through with
me. There's no way of spendin' money that that
dame don't know, but I guess all women are like
that. They make you fly some to get 'em. Gonna
meet her at eight tonight."
"Who's Katie?" asked Carl, drowsily amused
after his whiskey.
"She's a little brunette I'm goin' with. I'm
blonde myself so I like 'em dark an' well-built.
Fine-lookin' girl she is. Some curve! She ain't a
fast dame by no means but I give her money so's
she can look decent. You know the wages they
pay at them damn department-stores! I don't
wanna be ashamed of her when I take her out so
I get her the best of every thin' — silk stockings,
nice hat, swell shoes."
"Don't she feel kinda small about a man paying
for her clothes?" asked Carl, slipping into Peter-
"Well, she said no at first but I told her that
she didn't have to give me nothin' except what
she wanted to," said Petersen. "I'm a straight
guy with women, I am."
"Do you love her?" asked Carl, wondering how
Petersen would take the question.
He looked at Carl with a heavy disapproval.
"Say, cut out the kiddin'," he answered. "D'ya
lo-o-ove her" — he mimicked the words with aston-
ished derision — "none of that soft stuff for me.
She's a good-lookin', wise girl, and if I don't see
anyone I like better I'll prob'ly marry her, but
she ain't got no ropes tied to me. You bet not!
There's plenty of fish in the pond. Jack."
"Yes, if you've got the right kind of bait,"
answered Carl, deliberately falling into the other
man's verbal stride, "but be sure that someone else
isn't fishing for you at the same time. Hooked
from above, while not watching, you know."
"You're a regular kidder, ain't ya," said Peter-
sen, who dimly felt that Carl was masking the sly
wisdom of sexual pursuits and respected him for
it. "But say, Katie's got a nice friend — Lucy's
her name. She's a little thin, not much curve to
her, but some men like 'em that way. An' she's
kinda quiet too, don't talk much, but I don't care
for them when they're always laughin' and cuttin'
up. Then they're usually tryin' to get on your
good side an' work you for somethin.' Would ya
like to meet this dame? I don't know just how
far she'll go but she might come across if you
work her right."
"Sure, lead me to her," said Carl, inaudibly
laughing to himself.
"Alright, I'll make it for eight tuhmorrow night.
The four of us'll go somewhere . . Well, one more
an' we'll beat it. Jack."
Glancing swiftly ahead, Carl saw that this
engagement would demand a certain sum of
money and he wondered how he could obtain it
since he would not be paid for his present work
until the end of the week. While he stood, grasp-
ing this little perplexity, he noticed that a man
at his left had placed a ten-dollar bill on the bar,
in payment for a drink, and that the man was
immersed in a violent argument with a friend,
with his back turned to the bar. The bartender
was at the other end of the counter, and after a
glance at Petersen, who stood dully peering into
his empty glass, Carl whisked the bill into one of
his coat pockets. Then he quickly prodded Peter-
"Come on, let's go," he said, and the two walked
out of the saloon, Carl taking care to stroll in a
reluctant fashion and steeling himself for the
angry shout that might come.
As Carl walked down the street he felt a twinge
of regret at having stolen the money of a stum-
bling, minor puppet. He told himself that this
petty gesture had been forced upon him by an
innately vicious contortion known as life, but his
emotions cringed as they arranged an appropriate
"This man whom I have robbed will curse the
treacherous unfairness of life and his eyes, dilated
with bitterness, will see more clearly his relation
to the things around him. In this way I have
really befriended him. The railroad-detective,
who once struck me on the head with the butt of
a pistol, when I was offering no resistance, was
trying to obtain revenge — revenge upon the people
who had made him their snarling slave — and he
blindly reached out for the object nearest to him,
which happened to be my head. But there was no
desire for vengeance in my own gesture. I steal
from men in order to prevent life from stealing
an occasional refuge for my thoughts and emo-
tions. A purely practical device."
He left Petersen at the next street-corner and
boarded a crowded street-car, reflecting on his
engagement to meet the "quiet an' thin Lucy" as
he stood wearily clinging to the leather strap.
Petersen's attitude toward women was a familiar
joke. Dressed in its little array of fixed and con-
fident variations it had pursued Carl in the past
without repulsing or flattering him. To him it
was an elaborately pitiful delusion of dominance
made by hosts of men, who felt the craving to
inject a dramatic variety and assurance into the
frightened monotones of their lives. In an aching
effort to dignify their barren days these men
adopted the roles of hunters and masters among
women. They entered, with infinite coarseness
and precision, a glamorous realm of lies, jealous-
ies, cruelties, and haloes, and in this wildly fan-
tastic land they managed to forget the flatly sub-
missive attitudes of another world. Carl was tell-
ing himself that he had been waiting for a woman
who could bring him something more than the
crudely veiled undulation of flesh but he fashioned
the starving little romance with great deliberate-
"Women have excited my flesh and it has often
yielded to them, but that is simply a necessary
triviality," he said to himself. "I, too, must seek
to evade the monotonies and restrictions of my
life, lest I become mad, but at least I am quite
conscious of the joke. The cheap little drug-store
does not witness any hoodwinked swaggers on my
part! So on to quiet Lucy, with her stiff stupidi-
ties and elastic curves."
Once more he had to pass the garrulous sentries
at the gate — the neighbors around the doorstep.
They eyed the dirt upon his clothes and face with
an amazed contempt — Carrie Felman's son a com-
mon laborer ! — and lost in their scrutiny they gave
him monosyllabic greetings.
"Well, judging from the dirt all over you you've
found a job," said his mother in tones of blunt
"Yes, I'm working as a lineman's helper for the
telephone company," he answered in an expres-
After he had washed his parents pelted him
with amiable questions — the details of his work,
wages, and companions — a dash of solicitude
swinging with their desire to entertain the dull
aftermath of a hot summer day. He answered
their questions patiently and they were glad that
their son seemed ready to plunge his "wildness"
into the soothing currents of an average life.
Their affection for him was only able to dominate
their hearts when he failed to challenge the peace-
ful assumptions and bargains of their lives, for
otherwise it verged into hatred because it was con-
fronted by a stabbing mystery which it could not
After the evening meal he sat in an easy chair
upholstered with violent green plush and usually
occupied at such times by his father, but donated
to him in honor of his first evening of submission.
He sprawled in the chair, trifling with the head-
lines of a newspaper and throwing them aside. A
warm and not unpleasant stupor began to descend
upon his thoughts and emotions and they fluttered
spasmodically, like circles of drugged butterflies.
He closed his eyes. His legs and arms held a heav-
iness which he enjoyed because he was not forced
to raise it.
"Will this be my end — a swinging of arms and
legs during the daytime and then different shades
of sleep or sensual bravado at night?" he asked
himself drowsily — a well-remembered sentence
that needed little consciousness.
Suddenlj'-, an emotional revolt within him tore
against his physical lethargy, like lightnings from
some unguessed depth of his soul, and he was
astonished to find himself sitting upright in the
chair. He saluted the victory joyously.
"By God, I won't give in as easily as this," he
whispered to the purple grapes on the tan wall-
paper, addressing them because their ugliness was
at least helplessly inert. "You're concrete sym-
bols, if nothing else, and you don't stumble amidst
unconquered clouds. I'll go to the park and try to
write a poem."
Agreeably amazed at the returning vestige of
strength in his legs he walked to the public-park
and sat down upon a bench. Ignoring the people
who were strolling or romping around him he bent
over his paper-pad and tugged at the smooth inso-
lence of rhyme and meter, but the fight was an
uneven one since his mind and emotions were still
brittle and dazed from their day of hurried sub-
jection. After crumbling sheets of paper for two
hours he wrote :
TO A SAND-PIPER
One blast — a mildly frightened little host
Of liquid sprites, each holding one high
Aroused from some repentance in the
Of this grey-yellow bird who skims the
And silence. Far off I can somehow feel
The drooping-winged sprites back to
The poem did not satisfy him, and in a measure
he felt like a sleepwalker who was imitating ges-
tures that had lost their meaning to him, but he
dared not substitute his actual thoughts and emo-
tions in place of the tenuous or stilted fancies
which he believed were all that poetry was allowed
to achieve. All that he wanted to say, and all
that he did say in conversation with himself, mut-
tered unhappily within him as he sat on the
bench and strained to capture the pretty sugges-
tions of a mystical rapture, but he was slave to
the belief that poetry was a thinly aristocratic
experience in which thoughts and emotions,
serene, noble, and ludicrously artificial, disdained
the lunges of thought and the turmoils of an ac-
tual world — pale, washed-out princes contending
among themselves for trinket-devices known as
rhymes and meters.
He rose from the bench, impoverished by the
effort that he had made to counteract a day of
toil, and trudged homeward.
After stumbling through another day of heav-
ing muscles and bruised shins, with his self -hatred
gloating over the slavery of his body, he met
Petersen and the two girls at a down-town street-
corner, grinning at the thought of what this
experience might hold, for he liked the idea of
pretending to be a sensual beggar while a sneer
within him played the part of a bystander.
Petersen's sweetheart, Katie Anderson, was a
short, plump girl who tried, with the incessant
swiftness of her tongue, to apologize for the
excessive slowness of her thoughts. The coarse
roundness of her face was determinedly obscured
by rouge and powder, and her large brown eyes
were continually shifting, as though they feared
that stillness might betray some secret which they
held. Her face knew a species of sly and mild
cunning not unlike that of a rabbit frequently
beaten by life but clinging to its mask of courage
while hopping through the forest of sensual
experience. Her friend, Lucy Melkin, was more
subdued and helplessly candid. Her small slender
body stooped a little as though some unseen hand
were pressing too familiarly upon one of her
shoulders — a hand of exhausted fear — and the
pale oval of her face had the twist of a loosely
pleading infant beneath its idiotic red and white.
Her blue eyes seemed to be endlessly waiting for
something to strike them and wondering why the
blow failed to arrive on time.
Petersen suggested that they should visit an
adjacent vaudeville theater and when Carl and the
others agreed they walked through the crowded
"Baby, but I've had some day," said Katie.
"Them shoppers sure get on your nerves, I'm tell-
ing you. But you're not gonna let me work all
the time, are you, Charlie dear?"
"There's no harm in workin'," said Petersen,
not wanting to be quite placed in the position of
disdaining an essential fact within his life. "No
harm. I gotta take a lot of sass myself from the
foreman but it's all in the day's game. You don't
get nothin' easy in this world, 'less you're a crook,
and if y'are you'll soon wind up in a place where
ya don't wanta be. But still, a good-iookin' girl
like you, Katie, shouldn't hafta stand on her feet
all day. Don't be afraid, I'll make it easier for ya
"Now Charle-e, the way you flatter is some-
thin' terrible," said Katie, with a simper of nude
delight. "I suppose Mister Felman would like to
get some nice girl too, wouldn't you, Mister Fel-
man? Or maybe you've got two or three already.
You men can never be trusted."
"No, I haven't been lucky," said Carl, secretly
exploding with a laughter that was partly directed
He had been afraid that these girls would prove
to be of the shallowly sophisticated, carefully
sulky type and he felt relieved at their coarsely
direct naivetes. An axe, with baby-blue ribbon
tied around it, was more entertaining than a
pocket-knife steeped in cheap perfume.
"No, I haven't been lucky," he went on, "but,
you know, we're always waiting for the right one."
"Why, that's just what Lucy always says," said
Katie, rolling her eyes as she looked at the other
girl in a ponderously insinuating manner. "She's
always been rowmantic, like you. Mister Felman.
Why if I was to tell you of all the fellas she's
turned down you wouldn't believe me."
"No, perhaps I wouldn't," answered Carl, keep-
ing his face sober with a massive effort.
"Now, Katie, you keep quiet," said Lucy, and
Carl was surprised at the actual anger that hard-
ened her voice. "I'm perfectly able to talk about
my own business without your helpin' an' it's not
nice to be sayin' such things to a gen'lman who's
just met me. I'm sure he's not interested in my
past an' even if he is I'm the one to tell him an*
not you. You make me tired!"
"Well, of all things," cried Katie. "I was only
try in' to be nice an' here you go and get real
angry about it. I've never had a girl frien' who
was as touchy as you are. I didn't really tell
Mister Felman anything about you 'cept that
you was rowmantic, an' that's nothin' to be
"See here, stop all this quarrelin'," said Peter-
sen, to whom the speech of women was always an
ignorance that assailed the patience of masculine
wisdom. "You women can talk for ten hours
about nothin'! I didn't bring my friend down to
have him lissen to your squabblin'. Cut it out, I
This storm in an earthen jar was amusing to
Carl. He marvelled at the ability of these people
to whip words into redundantly nondescript droves
in which thought gasped weakly as it strove to
follow the uproar of simple emotions. Continually,
he felt the reactions of a visitor from another
planet, witnessing an incredible vaudeville-show.
All human beings to him were hollow and secretly
despairing falsehoods separated only by the clev-
erness or crudeness of their verbal disguises, and
he heard them with an emotion that was evenly
divided between amazement and a chuckle.
"I'm sure that Miss Anderson meant no harm,"
said Carl, with a whim to become the glib peace-
maker. "She was just feeling gay and frisky,
and I took her words in the right spirit. Miss
Melkin was a little angry because she thought that
I didn't understand Miss Anderson's intentions,
but she needn't be afraid. I never misinterpret.
It was just a little misunderstanding on both sides
so let's forget about it."
"Mister Felman, you're such a perfect gen'l-
man," said Katie, blithely.
Carl looked at Lucy and saw that a wistfully
surprised expression was liking his words and try-
ing to explain them to her mind. It was the look
of a baby flirting with an incongruous sophistica-
tion and striving to create a fusion between ingen-
uousness and a certain sensual wisdom learned in
the alleys of life.
"Ah, these starved dwarfs, how little it takes to
please them," Carl sighed to himself.
After the wiry, tawdry spectacle of the vaude-
ville show, with its weary acrobats and falsetto
singers, the four visited a grimly gaudy Chinese
restaurant, where the Orient becomes an awk-
ward prostitute for Occidental dollars, and while
Petersen and Katie gossiped about their friends
Carl and Lucy traded hesitant sentences and
threw little sensual appeals from the steady gaze
of their eyes. Lucy, with her look of a stunned
infant, made him feel vaguely troubled — the
ghost of a fatherly impulse. After the meal the
group separated, since the girls lived in different
parts of the city, and as Carl and Lucy rode in the
trolley car they tried to make their anticipations
more at ease, with the veils of conversation.
"Why do you live?" asked Carl, abruptly, to
see whether one or two words in her answer might
be different from what he expected.
"What a funny question !" cried Lucy. "I don't
know. Maybe it's because I wanta be happy. I
never am mosta the time, but then I'm always
hopin' that things'll change. Why'd you ask me
that funny question?"
The fumbling bewilderment of her words irri-
tated and saddened Carl, simultaneously, and in
an effort to slay the reaction he simulated a com-
"Happiness doesn't always speak the truth," he
said, struggling to mould his words so that they
could reach her understanding. "It's sometimes a
beautiful lie. You understand ? A beautiful, soft,
desperate lie. And we say the lie because we
want to change ourselves and somebody else to
something that can make us forget our smallness.
You see, we are not very large, either in our bodies
or in our thoughts, and we try to make ourselves
several feet taller, tall enough to put our heads
on a level with the trees, tall enough to imagine
that the wind respects us. Beautiful, desperate
lies. Do you understand?"
"I don't quite understand you," said Lucy. "You
speak so different from all the men I know, so
different, and yet I like the way you speak. Do
you mean it's not good for anyone to be happy?"
"If your happiness doesn't put you to sleep it's
good for you. When people try to be happy for
more than a little while it makes them sleepy.
And, you see, it's much better to be very much
alive, or very dead."
"Honest, I'd like to get what you're sayin',"
said Lucy, perplexed and softly candid. "Maybe
you mean that we oughta keep movin' all the time,
hearin' and seein' different things, an' maybe
you're right about that. I get tired of goin' down
to work every mornin' and coming back to the
same room every night. I'd like to travel around,
an' see different people an' places, an' find out
what everything's like. But I guess I never will."
"It's much easier than you imagine," said Carl.
"Just pack up your grip some morning and ride
away to another city and see what happens there.
After you've done it you'll wonder what held you
"Oh I just couldn't do that. I'd make my
mother so unhappy if I did, an' besides, I'd be
afraid of goin' somewhere all alone. I might not
find any work in the place where I went, an' then
I'd be up against it. I'd like to travel around with
plenty of money, an' nothin' to worry me, an' "
Her words trailed off into a revealing silence,
and Carl smiled sadly at the little, pitifully obvious
hint within her faltering. Perhaps it might be
best to marry this simple, mildly wistful, ignorant
girl and surrender himself to monotonous toil and
sensual warmth, forgetting the schemes that were
torturing his heart and mind. The reaction cap-
tured him for a time and then died. No, he was
gripped by a snarling, nimble blackguard who was
determined to lead him to destruction or victory.
And in the meantime, here was sensual forgetf ul-
ness — an interlude with a girl to whom happiness
was merely physical desire captivated by filmy
and soothing disguises.
They reached her home, a grey cottage in the
suburbs, with a little yard of dusty grass and a
modest porch. It bore an aspect of abject sim-
plicity, and that meditative leer possessed by the
fronts of all cottages. They sat in a hammock
on the porch, and Carl suddenly kissed her with
the theatrical intensity of one who is trying to
shake off a deliberate role. The gasping expostu-
lations of her voice were contradicted by the limp-
ness of her body, and sighing at this prearranged
incongruity, Carl kissed her again, still feeling
like a skillful charlatan and still hoping to lure
himself into a tumultuous spontaneity. This time
she was silent but gripped his shoulders with both
hands, while little shades of fright and desire
gambled for her face. Suddenly, a meek candor
came to her eyes and the seriousness of a child
lost in an overwhelming forest moulded her lips.
"Will you be good to me if I let you ?" she whis-
The pathetic, cringing frankness of her words
made a stabbing lunge at his deliberateness and
a feeling of troubled tenderness mastered his
heart. He wept inaudibly, as though he himself
had become a begging child, and the illusion of
rare experience, cheated and twisted out of his
life, returned to betray him. His head struck her
shoulder like the death of regret.
From that night on his life fell into a regular
stride — days of wrenching labor and nights of
rebellious weariness, broken by intervals in which
he crept, like a swindled, dirty child, to the arms
of Lucy, washed into a dreamless rest by the
simple flow of her desire for him and her sight-
less worship. To her he was an enigmatic, statu-
esque prince delighting her with queer words
which she could finger as though they were new
toys and bringing her an eager compression of
grief and joy which she had never known before.
She realized, dimly, that he was fundamentally
alien to her, and she often said to herself: "Some
day he'll meet a child who c'n understand all of
his funny words and then he'll forget about me,"
but this fear only increased the stubbornness of
her grasp. And so his life wavered between toil,
and sensual peace, and little mildly stunted poems
until one morning in late autumn when, at the
main office of the telephone company, he was
discharged with the information that his job had
been merely a temporary one.
"Thanks, old boy," he said loudly in the face of
the astonished cashier. "If you knew what a
relief this is to me you'd take a drink with me to
celebrate the occasion."
"Now what in the devil's the matter with you?"
— the man voiced his peevish perplexity as he
fished for Carl's pay envelope.
"I was getting accustomed to the chains, but
now that you've benignly removed them I'll make
another effort to escape," he answered, in the grip
of a gay and aimless relief.
The clerk tapped his forehead, with a scowl,
and contemptuously tossed over the envelope.
Carl carelessly stuffed the sixteen dollars into a
pocket and walked out upon the crowded down-
town streets. The streets were touched with the
middle of forenoon, that hour when the business
section of an American city is most leisurely and
nondescript in its make-up. The wagons and
trucks were not yet bombarding time with the
full climax of their inane roar and the flatly
hideous elevated railroad trains were firing at
longer intervals. Noise had not yet become the
confused and staggering slave of an ill-tempered
avarice. The nomads and idlers of the city's popu-
lace were flitting in and out among housewives on
an early shopping-tour and those sleekly bloated
men who stroll belatedly to their "offices. A sleepy
young vaudeville actress, painted and satiated,
hurried to some booking-agency; a middle-aged
pickpocket emphasized his grey and white checked
suit with sturdy limbs and examined passersby,
with the face of a shaved fox ; an undertaker, tall
and old, paced along with that air of worried
dignity which his calling affects; a fairly young
housewife pounded the sedate roundness of her
body over the pavement and held the hand of a
small, oppressed boy ; a stock-raiser from the west
slid his bulky ruddiness along the street, while
beneath his broad-brimmed hat his face held an
expression of awe-stricken delight; a college-girl,
slender and carefully hidden by silk, strove with
every mincing twist of her body to remind you
that she was pretty; a youth, trimly effeminate
and attended by an inexpensive perfume, trotted
along, eyeing the scene with an affected air of dis-
The streets were cluttered with a ludicrous,
artificial union of people — people who were
close together and yet essentially unaware of each
other's presence, and the invisible, purposeless
walls of civilization crossed each other every-
where. If he swerved two inches to the right the
chained trance of this lonely farm-hand might
strike the shoulder of this dully wounded cham-
bermaid from the Rialto Hotel, and with this hap-
pening their lives might become an inch less bur-
dened and struggling. Their sidelong glances
cross for a moment, like tensely held spears, but
they pass each other from cautious habit, strid-
ing to more prearranged and empty contacts.
Civilization has raised wall-making to a fine art,
striving to hide its dreamlessness beneath an as-
pect of complex reticence, and keeping its human
atoms feeble and solitary, since pressed together
they might break it into ruins. During the rush-
hours of a city you can see those streams of people
who are busily making and repairing the walls,
but during the lulls in the fever upon city streets
you may observe the stragglers, wanderers, and
grown-up children who are not quite connected
with this task and who humbly or viciously hurdle
the barriers that separate them.
These thoughts and emotions formed them-
selves in Carl's mood as he strolled through the
clattering, mercenary sounds of a midwestern
city. The joy of not being compelled to cope with
undesired physical movements brought its light-
ness to his legs, and he hurriedly fished for secrets
from the thousands of faces gliding past him.
This shrouded girl with a scowling face — was she
meditating upon the possibility of suicide, or won-
dering why her sweetheart had failed to purchase
a more expensive box of candy ? Each face curved
its flesh over a triviality or an important affair
and swiftly taunted his imagination, challenging
it to remove the masks that confronted it.
"Life holds a measure of anticipation and mys-
tery because people for the most part pass each
other in silence. If they stopped to talk to each
other they would become transparent and weari-
As Carl walked along hope began to sing its
juvenile ballade within his contorted heart. He
planned to send his poems to the magazines and he
felt strengthened by the unexpected lull of this
late autumn morning. He hurried to his favorite
bench in the public square, one that he alv/ays
occupied if it happened to be vacant when he
passed. He had a shyly whimsical fancy — a last
remnant of youth asserting itself within him —
that his touch upon this bench stayed there while
he was absent and gave a sense of invisible, prod-
ding communion to other pilgrim-acrobats who
occupied this seat at times — an abashed bit of sen-
timentality evading itself with an image. Filled
with the alert meeting of hope and bitterness he
wrote with a degree of fluid ease that had never
visited him before, and for the first time his
lyrics grazed a phrase or two that rumored recal-
citrantly of a proud story known as beauty. In
one attempted poem he asserted that an old,
blind, Greek huckster on the side street of an
American city had suddenly towered above the
barrenly angular buildings, in a massive reincar-
nation of Homer, and he wrote in part :
A purplish pallor stole
Over your antique face —
The warning of a soul
Rising with tireless grace.
Rising above your cart
Of apples, figs, and plums,
And with its swelling art
Deriding the city's drums.
With a quivering immersion he bent over his
paper, lost to the keen realities of a city day.
Sidling vagrants and transients from small towns
glanced at him with morose disfavor and some-
times stopped to stare at this shabby young man
whose head was never raised from his writing.
His abstraction was an insult to their sense of idle
release. He wrote for hours and only paused
when hunger of a different kind began irresistibly
to whisper within him, for he had not eaten since
morning. It was six o'clock when he hastened
from the park. He joined the homeward bound
masses, feeling satiated and apart, and dreading
the evening contact with his sagging, verbose
parents. They were sitting and standing in two
of the few postures that life still absentmindedly
allowed them — bending over newspaper and fry-
"Well, I've lost my job," he said to his father.
His father dropped the newspaper and his
mother shuffled in from the kitchen.
"Lost your job — what do you mean?" said his
mother with slow incredulity, as though she had
just escaped being crushed by a falling wall.
"They told me this morning that it had only
been a temporary one and they paid me off. I
thanked the clerk for his news but he didn't seem
to take it in the right spirit."
"Ach, I knew it would happen, I knew it," said
Mrs. Felman. "Here's what you get from your
ma-anooal labor! What kind of work is that for
an educated boy like you ? With your brains, now,
you could go out on the road and sell goods. You
should have more get-up about you. Mrs. Feins-
thai was telling me at my whist-club today that
her son Harry is making piles of money with
Liebman and Company. Sells notions and knick-
knacks. You could easy do the same if you had
any sense in your head."
"Carrie's right, this slavery is no work for a
smart man," said Mr. Felman. "Any fool, you
know, can work with his hands, but it takes real
intelligence to make a man buy something. I
want you to be able to laugh at people, and feel
independent, and not be a poor schlemiel all your
"Well, you've been a travelling salesman for
twenty years," said Carl, with a weary smile, "and
before that you tried a general merchandise store,
but it doesn't seem to have brought you much
money or happiness. You recommend a treacher-
ous wine. The thing that you've fought for has
always scarred and eluded you. What's the rea-
Mr. Felman lowered his head while the round
fatness of his face revealed a huddled confusion
of emotions in which shame and annoyance pre-
dominated. He sat, tormenting his greyish red
moustache, as though it were a fraudulent badge,
and gazing with still eyes at a newspaper which he
was not reading.
"Perhaps I've inherited nothing from you save
your curious inability at making money," said
Carl, trying to feel a ghost of compassion for this
petrified, minor soldier lost in the uproar of a
battle but still worshipping his glittering general.
"You've spent all of your life in chasing a frigid
will-o'-the-wisp, made out of the lining of your
heart, and you want me to stumble after the same
mutilated futility. You're not unintelligent, as
far as business ability goes, and yet, you've always
been doomed to a kind of respectable poverty.
Something else within you must have constantly
fought with another delusion to produce such a
result. You can't simply blame it on luck — that's
an overworked excuse. Perhaps you failed to win
your god because you've never been able to teach
efficiency and strength to the spirit of cruelty
within you. You have not been remorselessly
shrewd, my father, and now you are paying the
"Well, because I've been a fool that's no sign
that you should be one, too," answered Mr. Fel-
man in a voice of reluctant and secretly tortured
self-reproach. "Yes, I've been too kind-hearted
for my own good, dammit, but I want that you
should be different. It's been too easy for people
to swindle me. Yes, I want you to show them
something that your poor old father couldn't.
Yes. And as for your talk about chasing money,
tell me, how can a man live decent without plenty
of money ? How can he ?"
"We would have our nice store this very minute
if your father had listened to me," said Mrs. Fel-
man, mournfully. "He never would let me handle
the reins. I know how to be firm with people,
believe me, but your father would always give
credit to every Tom-Dick-and-Harry that walked
into the store. And whenever he did have money
he always gambled it away. Gambling has been
the ruination of his life! All of your wildness,
Carl, has come from your father's side and not
Mr. i^'elman looked at his son with an embar-
rassed admission of secret sins, while for a mo-
ment he became a faun lamenting his awkward-
ness, and his uneasy smile quivered as it tried to
say : "Alas, I am not so much better than you are,
my crazy, foolish son." Carl grinned in return
and for the first time in his life was on the verge
of feeling a slight communion with his shamefaced
father. As the mother went on with her endless
story of the father's crimes and incapacities the
rubbing of her words produced a glimmer of ill-
"Noo, don't you ever stop ?" he cried. "Always
nagging about the past! I might be a rich man
now if you hadn't driven me crazy with your end-
less complaints and hollering. Never a moment
of peace from the day I married you."
"I'll have to give both of you something else to
complain about," said Carl. "I'm going to stop
working for a while and write poetry, and send it
away to magazines."
"Ach, I thought those writing notions were out
of your head," cried Mrs. Felman. "Who will buy
your good-for-nothing stuff? I can't understand
a word of it myself! Writing again! Will my
miseries never end?"
Mr. Felman glared at his son and the old hos-
tility fell opaquely between them.
"Between you and your mother I'll be in the
grave soon!" he shouted. "I'm done with you!"
He arose and stalked out of the apartment, mut-
tering and producing a loud period of sound as he
closed the door.
Al Levy strolled into the dining room, tri-
umphantly tinkering with one of the points of
his small black moustache; lightly whistling a
tune from some latest musical comedy ; and bear-
ing upon his face the look of bored patience which
he assumed when in the presence of an inferior
being. After he and Carl had exchanged con-
strained "helloes" he sat at the table and ner-
vously interested himself in his cigar, as though
silently signaling for future words.
"See here, Carl, I don't want to butt in, and of
course, it's none of my business, but I couldn't
help hearing some of the argument that you've
just had with your parents and I want to give you
a little advice, purely for your own good. You're
on the wrong track, old boy. You're living in a
world that wasn't made to order for you and you
can't change it. If you don't bow to the world the
old steam-roller will get you, and what satisfaction
is that going to bring you ? This poetry of yours
is all very well as a side-line, something to fill in
the time when you're not working, and of course
it's very pretty stuff. I like to read poetry myself
sometimes. But really you shouldn't take it more
seriously than that. I'm telling you all this
because you've really got a fairly good head on
you and I hate to see you go wrong."
The sleekly loquacious man in front of him,
offering his shop-worn little adulterations of
worldly wisdom, aroused Carl to a lightly vicious
"You've wandered away from your natural
field, Levy," he said. "Talk about the cheap jew-
elry that you sell, or the physical merits of a
woman, or the next candidate for mayor, or the
latest prize-fight, but don't speak about something
that's simply an irritating mystery to you. You
know as much about poetry as I do about credits
and discounts, but you're a swaggering, muddy
fool who imagines that the wisdom of the world
has kissed his head. I'm not interested in you or
your words — you're simply five crude senses
dressed in a blue serge suit and trying to scoop in
as much drooling pleasure as they can before they
decay. Go out to your poolroom or down-town
theater and leave me in peace!"
Levy gasped blankly for a moment and then
frowned with an enormous hatred.
"Why, you stupid fool, this is the thanks I get
for giving you a little sensible advice ! " he cried.
"You think that you're better than everyone else
with all the rot you write about roses and love, but
let me tell you something, a common bricklayer
is more important than you are, any day in the
year ! A man like that is helping the progress of
the world while you're nothing but a puffed-up
little idler ! And even you have got to do manual
labor because you're not fit for anything else.
You're just a bag of easy words. If it wasn't for
your parents I'd punch you in the face and teach
you a lesson!"
Mrs. Felman, who had been knitting on the rear
porch, rushed into the room.
"Boys, boys, stop it!" she cried, in anguish.
"Are you out of your minds — fighting in the
house! Don't pay any attention to what Carl
says, Al. You know he's crazy and not respon-
"Well, after all, you're right, I shouldn't pay
any attention to him," said Levy with a sulky
loftiness. "I only spoke to him for your sake,
you know, but I'll leave him alone after this."
Carl grimaced with the aid of his eyebrows and
suppressed the easy words with which he could
have clubbed the man in front of him. After
Levy departed Carl fled to the street to escape his
mother's enraged words concerning the possible
loss of a valuable roomer.
During the next two weeks Carl sat in his
drably dark room, slowly copying his poems with
a stiff, perfect handwriting and mailing them to
magazines and newspapers, but rejection-slips,
fresh from the printer, began to reach him with
each return mail. Many of his uncertain, mys-
tical poems were equal to the quality of verse
maintained by certain American publications, but
editors scarcely ever trouble themselves to read
verse that is copied in pen and ink and bears the
spirals of deceptively boyish handwriting. Under
the blow of each returned poem Carl receded inch
by inch to his old cell of faltering insignificance.
He went back to the tame routines of physical
labor, finding work as a plumber's assistant, and
still consoled himself by creeping, like a soiled and
weeping child, to Lucy's blind and half-motherly
One evening, after he had stepped into the
brightly dismal sitting-room of Lucy's home, he
noticed an uneasy politeness in the greeting of
her parents — the usual well-smeared cordiality
was absent. At first he felt that he might have
made a mistake, but one glance at the nervous
distress upon Lucy's transparent little face indi-
cated that some change had taken place in her
family's regard for him. Lucy was never suc-
cessful in her efforts at evasion, and each one of
the pitifully comical masks that she wore merely
snugly revealed the outline of the emotion which
they were attempting to conceal. With a strained
gaiety she suggested a walk and after they had
reached the street he questioned her.
"Well, what's the trouble. Luce? The graceful,
January note in your parent's voices was not
quite expected. Tell me what it's all about."
"Oh, it's nothing, nothing, Carl dear."
"I'm quite sure that it's nothing in reality,
since your parents are almost incapable of
thought, but at any rate, you might explain the
empty gesture to me."
"Carl, you're talking so funny again. I adore
you when you say things that I can't understand.
But, oh Carl, I've forgotten, I mustn't say that to
you any more. I mustn't. You don't know what's
"No, I don't. What is it?"
"Why, my father says that he's convinced by
now that your intentions to me aren't serious an'
he says that he doesn't want me to go with you
any more. He says that you're only triflin' with
my affections else you'd have asked me to marry
you long ago, an' my mother says I shouldn't go
with you 'cause you don't seem to have any ambi-
tion to rise in the world an' 'cause you haven't
enough money to support a wife. . . . Gee, if you
knew the jawin' they've been givin' me for the
last two nights!"
"Yes, but why has all this come so suddenly?"
"I don't want to tell you, Carl."
"You might as well, Luce. I can see part of it
on your face now, because you always talk best
when you're silent. Tell me."
"Well, you know my second cousin Fred has
always been runnin' after me, only I've always
been cool to him because I don't love him, of
course, but a couple of nights ago he came to my
father an' said that he wanted to marry me an'
that I wouldn't have him. An' ever since then
they've all been on top of me! He's got a store
on the north side, a gents' furnishing store, an' he
makes piles of money, an' all my family are just
crazy for me to marry him. They say I'm just
wastin' my time with you an' they've forbidden
me to see you after tonight."
Carl felt the incongruous embrace of amuse-
ment and compassion as he listened to her simple,
broken, troubled words. This thinly yearning,
stifled girl who had folded him in the arms of her
puzzled adoration, was life really on the verge of
wounding the diminutive misty mendicant that
was her heart? He felt helpless, and a little
guilty because he was not as troubled as he should
"Do you want to give me up ?" he asked.
"Carl, you know I don't! You know it. But,
Carl, you wouldn't ever marry me, would you ?"
"No, I'm not the kind of a person that you ought
to marry. Luce."
She was silent for a time and he watched her
with a pitying question. Had he been unfair to
this poignantly cringing child? Yes, but unfair-
ness was inevitable when people from those differ-
ent planets contained within an earth yield to a
surface emotional attraction.
"Carl, I've always known that we'd hafta part
sometime," she said, "only I tried to make believe
that I didn't know it. But I did. We're too differ-
ent from each other, Carl, an' you know so much
more than I do an' you're so much better than I
am. I wanted to hold on to you 'cause I wanted
to make you happy, but all the time I knew that
we wasn't meant for each other. I knew it so
"I'm not in any way better than you are," said
Carl. "It's just that we each want different
things from the world. You want to settle down
in a home, and polish your kettles, and sing to
your children, and blithely wait for your tired
husband every night, while I want to write fool-
ish words on slips of paper and escape from the
world around me."
"But, Carl, it'll be so hard for me to leave you,"
she said, in the mournful, dazed voice of one who
turns away from a stone wall of whose existence
he is not quite certain.
A tumult of frail inquiries found the corners of
her face and lips. Her breasts heaving beneath
the blue muslin waist suggested the movements
of loosely despairing hands. She sat with Carl
on the grass of a park and wept in a barely audible
manner as though she were intent upon giving
firmer outlines to a blurred and elusive grief.
Carl felt a softly potent disgust with himself and
life. Human beings — what did they ever bring
each other except pain cunningly disguised or
reaching for a phantom ecstasy? Now he would
be alone again ; the slender thread binding him to
animated life would snap; while this child, who
held a cloud where a brain should have resided,
would hide her glimpse of a grotesquely forbidden
heaven and plod back to the soothing subterfuges
of her world. Flitting lies seducing a black void
into an attitude of false friendship. A stumbling
urge, mistaking its own drops of perspiring ardor
for permanent, actual jewels.
As they stood upon the porch of her home she
looked at the darkened windows and then clutched
the lapels of his coat.
"They're all in bed now," she whispered. "Carl,
I've got to have you once more before you go.
I've got to. Maybe I'm a bad girl, maybe, I don't
know, but I want to hold you again."
"This will be the least thing that I can give
you," said Carl inaudibly as they sat upon the
hammock. With great care he tried to form
within himself the intensity of a despairing father,
drawing the swift incense of motion into a fare-
well to his child, in the hope that she might be
idiotic enough to preserve it afterwards as a
He closed his eyes as he kissed her, a little
afraid to look into her face.
One Sunday morning, Carl sat at home, lightly-
wandering through a newspaper. On the previous
night he had met Petersen and had yielded to an
invitation to accompany "two swell brunettes
who don't object to a gay time," and the recollec-
tion of his violent, drunken contortions came to
him like a wierdly teasing dream of no particular
significance but leaving the temptation of nausea
behind it. He had released a desecrating ghost
of himself from the sneering recesses of his self-
despair. Yes, you could burn away the sensual
rubbish, with derisive gestures, but your empti-
ness and weariness always returned for their slow
revenge. He sought to put his thoughts to sleep
with the hasty versions of loves, catastrophes,
and law-suits that winked maliciously at him from
In the middle of one page he came upon a
rectangle of gossip concerning a poetry magazine
of whose existence he had never known, and
darting from his insensitive trance he lingered
greedily over the news. Through the efforts of
an elderly poetess several society people had
agreed to endow a small magazine that would be
entirely devoted to verse, and the newspaper item
was heralding the fact that one of these people
had contributed a sonnet to a recent issue of the
magazine. "Mr. Robert Endicott, the well-known
clubman and member of fashionable sets, appears
with a delicate contribution in this month's issue
of The Poetry Review, our aristocratic little maga-
zine of the muse. This will be a surprise to those
who know Mr. Endicott only in his role of
business-man and society leader." Carl strove to
be properly impressed by the surprise, decorating
it with the Order of the Nasty Chuckle.
He felt that it might be consoling to receive
a rejection slip from an upper- world magazine of
this kind — a dab of caviar on the empty plate —
and so he sent them three poems. The paper
oblong came, but its blank side held the following
note: "Dear Mr. Felman: Your work interests
me. Won't you drop into the office some time?
What men call triumph is a fanciful exaltation
that may fall alike upon atoms and temples — a
grandiose child of hope, whose mother is egoism
and whose father is pain. Men, whose life is but
a sensitive or oblivious second — a fleeting stam-
pede within mist — seek the absurd consolation of
believing that their work will become immortal,
and this phantom lie has induced many a soldier
to writhe upon some trivial battlefield and many
a minor poet to fight with threats of the gutter,
Carl Felman, obscure, gasping struggler, commun-
ing with the marks left by endless whips, felt
foolishly thrilled at this first glimpse of personal
attention from a magazine and became like a
swain to whom a glove has been thrown from
an enticingly high balcony. He stood peering up
with a timid excitement.
On the following afternoon he managed to leave
the plumbing shop, with a plea of illness, and
raced to the office of the magazine. A feathery
swirl of quickly purchased emotions — fragments
of a youth that had been shattered — revolved
within his heart. As he closed the door of the
large office he saw two women seated at different
desks and poised over the rustle of papers. One
was elderly and sedate, and her sober clothes were
reprimanding a substantial body. Beneath a sur-
vival of greyish-brown hair, plainly gathered, the
narrow oval of her face looked at life with a
politely questioning air. It was the mellowly
distorted expression of one who has arrived at
final convictions regarding the major parts of
life, and is patiently and inflexibly regarding the
lesser perceptions surrounding her. Her slightly
wrinkled face was dominated by a long, thin nose
and thin, tightly expectant lips, and it seemed
that her tired emotions had gone to sleep and
were staring out from a dream of suave wake-
fulness. The other woman was hovering near the
last climax of her youth, and her slender body
rose unobtrusively to the pale repressions of her
face. Small and round, her face carried a well-
trimmed self-satisfaction — the reward of one
whose dreams have lived inwardly, with only an
occasional sip of forbidden cordials. Her loosely
parted lips guarded a receding chin and her barely
curved nose ascended to large brown eyes and a
Carl walked to her desk and stood for a moment
like a child in a cumbersome robe who is waiting
for some inevitable rebuke. The harshly weary
assurance which he was able to display to other
people vanished in this imagined shrine of an
unattained art. The young woman looked up with
"My name is Carl Felman. You wrote me a note
last week," said Carl, delicately groping for the
"Oh, yes, I remember" — her face attained a
careful smile, tempered by a modest curiosity.
"I'm so glad that you came down."
She turned to the other woman.
"Mary, this is Mr. Felman, the gentleman that
I spoke to you about. He sent us a rather inter-
esting group of poems, you know."
Carl winced at the word "rather" — it was asso-
ciated to him with "more or less," "somewhat,"
"somehow," and "to some extent," those words
and phrases with which cultured people manage
to say nothing and yet preserve the faint
appearance of saying something. His breathless
attention disappeared and was replaced by the old
morose aloofness. If this woman had asserted
that his poems were trivial or stifled, he would
have respected her, but now he spat contemptu-
ously at the smooth veil of her words.
Mary Aldridge, editor of The Poetry Review,
moved her lips into an attitude that came within
a hair's breadth of being a smile — an expression
of slightly amused and restrained condescension.
She lifted a pencil as though it were an age-old
scepter held by practiced fingers.
"How do you do, Mr. Felman," she said.
Some people are able to say "how do you do"
in a way that makes it sound like "why are you
here?" and Carl inwardly complimented her on
this minor ability and said his repetition in a
voice that made it mean "slip down, fathead."
After this exchange of vocal inflections, part of
the general vacuity with which human beings
greet each other for the first or last time, he
seated himself and clutched a roll of manuscripts
in the manner of a father who is frantically
shielding his child from some invisible danger.
"I sent you some poems which were returned,
but I have some others here," he said. "Perhaps
you will do me the favor of reading them. I am,
of course, anxious to know what may be wrong
with my work, and also what faint virtues it may
hold. Sometimes I feel sure that I am not a poet
and I allow myself the luxury of becoming angry
at the persistent longing that makes me run after
futilities. Will you read some of these poems and
tell me whether I am a fool, or a faltering pilgrim,
or anything definite?"
The abashed and yet softly incisive candor
would have unloosened or entertained the emo-
tions of anyone except Mary Aldridge. She
regarded him with a coldly amused impatience.
"We-ell, I'm very busy just now," she said,
"but I'll glance through some of your things. As
I recall, your work had a rather promising line
here and there."
He handed her his roll and she scanned the
poems, thrusting each one aside with a quick
frown. She lingered a bit over the last one, in
which he had extracted a sleeping Homer from
the soiled and cowering figure of a blind Greek
"M-m, this one isn't so bad," she said, "though
I think that the last lines are a little forced."
"If I decide to alter them, will you take the
poem?" asked Carl, bluntly.
"Oh, no, no, Mr. Felman; your work is by no
means good enough for publication," she answered.
"I merely meant that this poem in particular had
an element of interest."
Accustomed to blows of all kinds, Carl felt
relieved that her frigid shroud had been finally
lifted, and with a smile he reached for his cap.
Conversation is merely a tenuous or sturdy pro-
tection given to an instinctive like or dislike,
and with their first words people unconsciously
reveal the attitude toward each other which they
will afterward try to excuse and defend with
great deliberation. Carl hated the woman in
front of him, not because she had slighted his
work, but because she held to him an attenuated
and brightly burnished hypocrisy that was like
a shriveled mask incessantly polished by her
words. He could have imagined her stamping
upon a hyacinth as though she were conferring
a careful favor upon the petals and calyx. Mary
Aldridge, on her part, disliked the straight lines
of intent which she could sense beneath his terse
questions and missed the bland insincerities of
those smoothly adjusted postures known as good
manners. Life to her was a series of stiffly
draped and modulated curves, violated only by
rare moments of guarded exasperation and anger.
"Would you advise me to stop writing?" asked
"No, indeed," she answered, with her first small
smile. "Your work is rather promising and you
seem to be quite young. Some of it reminds me
of Arthur Symons. Of course, I don't think that
you will ever become a great poet, but we need
lesser voices as well as greater ones, you know."
"Would you mind if I asked you to stop using
that word ra-ather and try a little spontaneous
directness?" asked Carl, blithely.
She rose suddenly and addressed the other
woman, ignoring his words as though they had
been a trivial insult.
"I've just remembered that I must meet Mr.
Seeman at three," she said. "Fm afraid that I
shall have to leave you with this impulsive gen-
Carl stood up, but the other woman revealed
with an unrestrained smile that she was actually
aware of his presence.
"Won't you stay awhile?" she asked. "We can
talk a bit over your work, if you care."
Carl looked at her with suspicion and interest
— a trace of gracious attention in this place. He
resolved to explore the seeming phenomenon and
settled back in his chair, while Mary Aldridge,
with a barely audible farewell, walked out of the
"Don't you think you were a little crudely
sarcastic in your last remark to Miss Aldridge?"
asked Clara Messenger.
"I like an axe sometimes," said Carl, "although
I don't worship it monotonously. For certain
purposes it works far better than the swifter
exuberance of a stiletto. Unless a person is
unassumingly frank to me I don't feel that he
has earned a delicate retort."
"Why,- it's impossible to live in the world with
a code like that. One would have to become a
"No, even hermits are never absolutely isolated.
Living on another planet would be the only rem-
edy, I guess."
"What a curious, lunging person you are ! But
you shouldn't have minded Miss Aldridge so much.
She's always afraid that if she openly encourages
a young poet he'll imagine that he's a genius."
"That's a harmless trick of imagination and it
doesn't need any encouragement or censure. It's
a shade better, perhaps, than imagining that you
are a fool."
"What an old-young person you are. When you
talk I feel that I'm listening to an insolent essay.
I'm not so sure that a poet doesn't need praise.
It's part of his task to change the polite praise
around him to an understanding appreciation, and
that can be very necessary and exciting."
"To a poet the appreciation of other people
must be like a glass of lukewarm wine taken after
work," said Carl.
"Well, I know that it means a great deal to
me," said Clara Messenger. "It reassures me that
Fm speaking to the hearts and minds of the
people around me and I'd feel very unimportant
if at least a few people didn't like my work. One
can't live in a vacuum, after all."
"No ? I've done it for five years or so. I think
that all of us secretly live in vacuums, but we
use our imaginations to conceal that fact. Words
were really invented to hide this essential empti-
"You're a massive pessimist! The strangest
man of twenty-three that I've ever seen! If
things are so utterly hollow to you, why do you
"In order to persuade myself that I have a
reason for living — a defiant entertainment in the
presence of an empty theater. . But it's always
futile to defend your reason for living. Tell me,
instead, what do you think of your associate. Miss
"I really think that she treated you a little
heartlessly, but at the same time I don't think
that she meant to," said Clara. "Mary is a woman
who grew into the habit of hiding herself from
people because so many of those who looked at
her youth, at one time, failed to understand it."
"I can understand that process, though I don't
believe that it applies in her case. It's a slow
and sullen withdrawing from the jibing strangers
around you — a wounded desire to meet their walls
of misunderstanding with even harder walls of
your own. As you grow older, I suppose, the
sullenness may change to a well-mannered and
hopeless aloofness. Age softens the attitude and,
still self-immersed, it seeks the distraction of
"What has happened to make you say this?"
asked Clara, with a mistily maternal impulse.
"Just now I'm working in a plumber's shop,
helping the sewers with their sluggish germs of
future turbulence," said Carl, "and that, of course,
can play its part in the making of a pessimist. .
But tell me what you think of my work?"
"Plumbing or poetry?"
"Both of them are interwoven."
"Your poems are stiff and dimly tinted, like a
row of plaster-of-paris dolls standing on a dusty
and venerated shelf. Don't you see? You talk
about twenty times better than you write, and
I can't understand this peculiar incongruity.
Perhaps you've been taught that poetry is some-
thing that must be ethereal and noble at all costs,
and perhaps you've been inarticulate because the
rest of you has been at war with this one illusion.
I don't feel that you've looked upon poetry as
a place where you could expr.ess your actual
thoughts and feelings."
When a man has been intangibly blind for a
long time, he usually stumbles at last, accidentally,
upon an incident or challenge that makes him
totter on the edge of vision, and in that moment
it is revealed whether this blindness has been
innate or not. If he wavers, then his lack of
sight has been an artificial ailment, and if his
first reaction after the stumble is one of stubborn
irritation his tightly-shut eyes are not apt to
open. Carl felt, without quite being able to shape
the picture, that he was walking out of a sublime
bric-a-brac shop, and yet the contact of him, left
behind in the shop, continued to speak with his
words. As he discussed poetry with Clara he
began slowly to feel that he had been a minute
and prisoned fool, although his words writhed in
an effort to escape an absolute admission. She
gave him practical scoldings, also, concerning
the exact way in which manuscripts should be
submitted to editors, and he listened with the
amusement that a man feels when he suddenly
sees that he has been walking along a street with
his shoes unlaced. She gave him, again and again,
her hazily maternal smile in which sensual desires
selfishly clothed themselves in an ancient and
soothing dress known as kindness.
"I do hope that I've helped you," she said. "I'd
like to feel that I've aided someone to discover
his real self."
When he returned to his room he applied a
match to everything that he had ever written and
watched the flaming pile of papers with an emo-
tion in which dread, tenderness, and elation were
oddly contending against each other. These bits
of paper, with their symbols of shimmering con-
fusion, had been decorated by the sweat of his
body, the brittle despair of his heart, and the
anger of his soul, and their death brought him
a helpless and jumbled sadness; but gradually
another reaction began to possess him. The naked
quivers of a fighter, crouched in the plan of his
first blow, centered around his heart, and all of
the thoughts within his mind gave one shout in
unison — a meaningless hurrah just before the
first leap of a creative battle. During the next
two months he wrote with an insane speed, and
all of his thoughts and emotions rushed out in
an irresistible, nondescript mob scene — a French
Revolution swinging its torches and howls against
every repression and constraint within him. Good,
bad, and mediocre, they rain in the circles of a
celebrated revenge, and his main purpose was
expressed in these first four lines of one of his
You have escaped the comedy
Of swift, pretentious praise and blame,
And smashed a tavern where they sell
The harlot's wine that men call fame.
ITH Clara Messenger as his guide,
Carl began to discover that
another world nestled between the
dull apartment houses, raucous
markets, and underworld saloons
which had confined his body — a
world of smoother parlors and studios, in which
stood "poets," painters, sculptors, novelists, critics,
Little Theater actors, art patrons, students of the
arts, all leading their little squads of camp follow-
ers or plodding methodically in the ranks. This
world was swaggering and overheated, and within
it hosts of minor people were raising their falter-
ing or blissfully insincere prayers to a god with
a thousand faces, whom they called Artistic
Expression — a god of astigmatic egoism dressed
in cautious shades of emotion and thought, and
obsessed with a fear of irony and originality.
Carl felt like an emancipated hermit suddenly
thrown as a sacrifice to an uproar of contending
philosophies and artistic creeds. His mind, accus-
tomed to solitary decisions, became bewildered
amidst the bloodless, tin-sword battle around him
and he wondered how he could possibly make hig
own voice heard in the egoistic din. Each man
assured him that the other man was a fool or
a charlatan, and he listened to their conflicting
assumptions of wisdom with a naive dismay.
"What has lured these people into their atti-
tudes of isolated and weary superiority?" he
asked himself, "and if the attitudes are genuine,
why do these people make a garrulous religion
of attacking each other ? If they actually believed
that their convictions were mountain ranges, with
some snow of immortality soft beneath their feet,
they would dwell with a more pensive calmness
upon these substantial protests, instead of assidu-
ously pelting each other with flecks of mud in
With the melancholy idealism of his youth
Carl had made an emotional sketch in which
artists and writers were a band of profoundly
misunderstood martyrs, clinging to each other as
they accepted the indifference and ridicule of a
practical world, and he was amazed to find that
almost all of them were far too easy to under-
stand, and thronged with shudders of words at
the idea of clinging to one another. Like an
array of famished and animated housewives, they
traded gaiety and friendly argument while in
each other's presence, while in secret they carved
each other with gossiping exaggerations, three-
penny sneers, and every hair's-breadth edge of
derision. Even among their different "schools"
and cliques he found little fusion — the members
of each group were plotting to unseat their leader
because they had commenced to fear that he was
merely using them as a step-ladder.
This trivial drama, with malice performing
menial duties in the service of the old, egoistic
dream of immortal expression and emotional tall-
ness, was a new reality to Carl and he surveyed
it with an alert contempt.
"Why all of this clownish, papier-mache melo-
drama, with words playing the part of overworked
murderers?" he asked himself. "Is it possible
that faint voices whisper within these people that
they are not as important and all-seeing as they
would like to be? Most ludicrous tragedy! The
noise, alas, must ever continue, since their doubts
and fears require a constant pounding. Poor,
astounding people ! . . . The critic, stroking his
suave patter above a tea-table: 'Oh, yes, Mr. X.
is a very sound man, very sound.' 'Mr. C. is indeed
a great poet, for there's a certain simplicity and
sincerity in everything he does.' 'Mr. E. is amaz-
ingly clever and erudite — a most important man.'
'Mr. B. ? I'm afraid that he's only a minor Baude-
laire, you know, the old morbid straining after
originality' — this critic is merely allowing his
thoughts and emotions to perform their private
functions upon the publicity of a fanciful pedestal,
to retch, relieve themselves of fluids and rubbishes,
and scratch their smarts. It is, in truth, a weird,
He meditated upon his own relation to this
explanation of the belligerent waste of energy
"I am a better egoist than the people around
me," he said. "I will not be forced to display
my private organs as often as they. Only an
absolute egoist can afford to be calm and more
obscurely naked. If I indulge, at rare intervals,
a secret grin will gain its reward."
His thoughts had mounted these conclusions
as he sat one night in Clara's studio, with his
legs tucked in above a scarlet cushion. She looked
at him with a petulant question on her face.
"Carl, why are you forever arousing the enmity
of people?" she asked.
"Because I detest most of them ; because I like
straight lines and angles in conduct while they
prefer curves and circles ; and for a variety of rea-
"But, Carl, you don't need to be so deliberate
about antagonizing people."
"I'm not. I'm simply myself most of the time —
a difficult task, but it can be achieved."
"Well, everybody is sneering at your latest
stunt. Why, oh why, did you have to parade down
Scott street smoking that long Chinese pipe of
yours, with a red ribbon tied to the stem? Carl,
sometimes I almost believe that you love to pose !"
"I ain't guilty, I swear it. When that group of
my poems came out in the big eastern magazine
I simply felt that the event demanded an un-
ashamed celebration. It was like the christening
of a healthy child and I wanted something
stronger than whiskey or wine. An odd longing
that comes to me sometimes. I decided to commit
the inexplicable crime of becoming immersed in
a new toy of motion. I fitted a rubber mouth-
piece over the tip of the pipe and used it half of
the time as a cane. I've been told that a crov/d fol-
lowed me but I didn't turn my head to investi-
"Well, everyone has heard about it and they're
all calling you a cheap little poseur. And, really,
I don't know that they're wrong. I never felt so
angry in my life. You love to attract the attention
of other people and you'll make every kind of ex-
cuse rather than admit this fact!"
He showed an outburst of surface anger.
"You can act more impulsively in a camp of
lumber-jacks than before a crowd of so-called
artists and writers," he said. "The lumber-jacks
might regard you with a simple amazement, or an
unrestrained laughter, but at least they'd grant
you the sincerity of insanity! Since I must
choose between stupid people I prefer the more
roughly natural ones."
"I'm tired of hearing you call everybody a hypo-
crite," said Clara. "It's just a nice way that you
have of defending your own actions !"
He arose and reached for his cap.
"I'll leave you to this weariness," he said an-
grily. "It may be possible that, as I walk down
the street, no one will believe that I'm striding
along in a highly deliberate manner. The thought
"Carl, don't be foolish," she said, half-repen-
tantly, but without answering he walked out of
This had not been his first quarrel with Clara,
and the frequency of their collisions, always fol-
lowed by a skirmish of nervous laughter, made
him believe that they were both stupidly postpon-
ing a sure separation. Clara was, in her entire
essence, a deft Puritan industriously beating the
back of a frightened Pagan. At certain intervals
the Pagan arose and knocked the Puritan uncon-
scious but the latter always gradually revived and
resumed its dulcet mastership, and Clara liked or
disliked Carl whenever her inner situation shifted
in these ways. Carl had grown weary of being
alternately punched and caressed by her moods.
He had long since realized that his relations with
her were merely the playthings of a fluctuating
emotional response and that neither he nor she
had the slightest respect for each other's habits
and minds, and on this evening, as he walked
down the street after leaving her studio he knew
that the uncertain pretence of drama had ended.
He had slowly discovered that almost all of the
people around him, with their different versions
of culture and art — those two realities hidden by
mincing courtezans of egoism — were distrustful
of bluntness and gay impulse in conduct and had
made a word known as "unconventional," in order
to defend the ordinary fright that governed their
actions. A venerable contradiction among these
minor people but one that had held new outlines
for him. He had also learned that most of these
people were so accustomed to masquerades that
they could not believe in the reality of a care-
lessly naked attitude and usually mistook it for a
dazzling and ingenious pose.
Filled with these gloomy realities he walked
down a roughly bright street where the under-
world tiptoed furtively between the ranks of semi-
respectable working-people — a street of gaping,
sleekly sinister saloons, cabarets, small, thickly
tawdry shops, and cheap, cofRn-like hotels and
apartment houses. The hour was early — nine p.
m. — and he walked slowly, engaged in his favorite
pastime of watching the shrouded haste of crowds.
As he passed a moving-picture theater, dotted
with greasy electric lights and plastered with in-
anely gaudy posters, he felt a light hand on his
shoulder. He turned and saw Lucy standing be-
fore him. The sight gave him a friendly shock,
for on this evening he was tired of clever hypoc-
risies and longed for anything that would be crude
"Lucy, have you fallen down from some sky?"
"No, I just came out of the theater here an'
saw you walkin' by. Gee, but I'm glad I did ! It's
been a year now since we've seen each other,
hasn't it? An' I never, never thought I'd meet
"Well, what has happened to you, Luce?" he
asked as they walked down the street together.
"I'm married to Fred now. I didn't see any-
thing else to do after you left, and all of my folks
just pushed me into it. 'Nen besides I was tired of
workin' in that darn store. Tired."
"Are you less tired now ? Happy ?"
"Mm, Fred's an awful nice man in his way an'
I s'pose I oughta be happy. He really loves me,
Fred does, an' he don't seem to lose his temper the
way some men do. , 'Course, he's a little stingy
with money but then I s'pose he's tryin' to look
out for the future."
"Do you love him now. Luce?"
Her head drooped a little and she was silent for
"I guess it's terrible of me not to love him,
after all he's done for me, but I just don't. I
always keep rememberin' all of your funny ways
an' all the time we was together an' I feel ashamed
of it too 'cause it's kinda like not bein' true to
Fred, but I can't help it. There's been times when
I've managed to forget about you but they don't
last long enough."
He tried to make himself feel like a helpless
knave as he listened to this simple child of earth
who longed for the palely inexplicable god before
whom she had once grovelled in rhythmic speech-
lessness. He had taken all of her eager silences,
pardoned by the damp understanding of flesh, and
bestowed upon her in return nothing save the
blurred vision of thoughts and emotions which it
would have been useless for her to understand, and
the tantalizing fantasy of his embraces. If he
had stayed with her he would have mutilated,
kicked, and evaded every longing and purpose of
his life while she would have revelled in happi-
ness. Walking down this street were thousands
of people, trying to embalm a softly sensual hour
with the fluids and devices of bravely stupid lies,
and inventing words — "honor," "respectability" —
to conceal the grotesquely snickering effect of
their lives. Life was, indeed, an insipid mounte-
"Luce, I ought to feel like a selfish dog, for if I
did, then at least I could give you a belated
shoulder to cry upon," he said. "We're different
persons, that doesn't need to be said, but still I'm
sorry at times that we parted. I need your stu-
"Do you still care for me, Carl?"
"There are times when I want you again. You
brought me a delicate dumbness which I could
change into any kind of speech, with my fingers
and words. Your simplicity doesn't swagger, or
point admiringly to itself, and I like that. Just
now I am surrounded by people who are not dif-
ferent from you except that they have memorized
three or four thousand words more, and use them
with a moderate degree of cunning. Your silences
are much better."
"I'm not always silent 'cause I don't understand
what you say. Sometimes I do understand, but I
keep quiet 'cause I don't know how to tell you
They turned down a side-street and he looked
questioningly at her.
"Aren't you afraid that Fred may see us to-
gether?" he asked.
k"I forgot to tell you. He left this afternoon for
Pittsburg, to see his mother, an' he'll be gone for
two weeks. I'm all alone now."
That conversing silence, in which a suggestion
is so strongly felt that it need not be heard, was
released from both of them and remained until
they reached the apartment building in which she
lived, and stood in the dark hallway.
"I don't want to leave you now" — ^her whisper
was frightened but stubbornly tender. "I don't
want to. For all I know I may never see you again
and if I don't I've got to have somethin' that I can
hold on to. Somethin' that's not as foolish as just
talkin' words. . . I'm a dreadful girl, I s'pose. I
must be very wicked. I must be. . . But I don't
care. Please don't go away."
They stood in the hallway like two dizzy, bur-
dened children feeling the advancing shadow of
an irresistible action and yet waiting for the exact
moment when all deliberate words would vanish.
Until their minds were quite free of words
their limbs could not move. Suddenly they both
mounted the stairway, hand in hand, as though a
kindly demon had decided to make playthings of
When Carl left the apartment building early on
the following morning and hurried to the suburban
cigar-store where he now worked half of the day
as a clerk, his old self-disgust was absent and a
cleanly wild lightness took his limbs, as if he had
slept upon the plain sturdiness of a hillside and
was pacing away with the borrowed vigor.
"The only time that I dislike earth is when it
is dressed in urgent mud, adulterated perfumes,
strained lies, and repentant fears," he told him-
self as he walked through the bustling shallow-
ness of each city street.
Before leaving Lucy he had promised to return
on the following night, and when she had wept
and begged him "not to think that she was a ter-
ribly bad girl," he had laughed softly and dropped
his lips upon her tears.
"You have been yourself, Luce, and since the
world is always conspiring against such an arbi-
trary occurrence, you can give yourself a bewil-
dered congratulation," he told her, gayly.
Without understanding his words she had felt
the presence of defiant sounds which had cheered
her. During the next two weeks, as he remained
with her each night, he reflected upon the possible
melodrama that lurked just outside of his visits.
"If her husband suddenly returns and finds me
with her he'll want to kill me," he said to himself
once, as though he welcomed the idea. "He'll feel
that only my death could heal his injured vanity
— vermilion medicine! — but, of course, instead of
admitting that to himself he'll find an accommo-
dating phrase to hide the actual motive, such as
'avenging his honor,' 'killing a treacherous
hound,' 'defending the family,' etc. The news-
papers are full of such charming episodes, well
fortified by words, for without words to obliterate
his motives man would perish in a day. Melo-
drama is the only real sincerity that life holds —
the one surprising directness in a world of false
and prearranged contortions. Perhaps I could
ravish my fears and welcome it. I don't know, and
no one can until it actually arrives."
But the two weeks died without the blundering
interruption of drama, and Lucy and Carl parted
on the last morning with a chuckling stoicism —
tears and the syllables of laughter are always
similar — the madcap protest of a last kiss — lips
and tongues intent upon a future compensation —
and a final flitting of hands. They had slapped in
the face a violent shadow known as life and now
it would take a fancifully piercing revenge. They
had attained a quality known as bravery — a qual-
ity that is only fear rising to a moment and effect-
ively sneering at itself.
Carl returned to the minor, suavely gesturing
groups of hypocrites in the city in which he lived,
and in going back to this "art and literary world"
he had the feeling of one who had deserted a
strong valley of desire to enter a stilted room
filled with imitation orchids, valiantly empty
words, and malice dressed in clumsy, velvet cos-
tumes. This reaction was still dominating him
as he sat, one afternoon, in the office of a magazine
called "Art and Life," perched upon a window-sill
and looking down at the black and dwarfed con-
fusion of a street.
This office was a gathering place for several
young writers, each of whom fondled his pet rebel-
lion against conservative standards, and they
clustered around the anxiously seraphic face of
Martha Apperson, the young editor, and seriously
fought for the treason of her smiles. She was a
tall, sturdily slender woman with a blithely sym-
metrical swerve to her body, and the natural pink-
ness of her face parted into the curves of a lightly
distressed and virginal doll. Her blue-gray eyes
were looking at life with a startled incredulity —
the gaze of one who has been tempted to regard
a sometimes merry, but more often vaguely sor-
rowful picture-puzzle. Life to her was a rapidly
taunting mixture of glints, hints, undertones, sur-
face blooms, fleeting tints, portentous shadows
with little shape to them, broken images, and
misty heights, and she was forever trying to lure
them all into a cohesive whole by striding from one
philosophy and creed to another, adding another
stride every three or four months. At such times
she would appear at her office and enthusiastically
assure her audience that she had finally accomp-
lished the almost obscene miracle of penetrating
the depths of human existence. She had started
her magazine as a strident protest against "the
people who live conventionally, steeped in a vicious
comfort that binds their imaginations and ruins
their legs and arms," and its pages made an awk-
wardly weird combination of sophomoric revolts,
longings for "beauty and splendor" — those easily
bought thrones for the importarice of youth — and
enraged yelps against traditions and conventions,
with here and there a more satirically detached
note from Carl and two other men. Carl knew
that he wanted her body because it was the only
mystery that she seemed to possess and because
he wondered whether it might not be able to make
her thoughts less obvious. Her mind was a stumb-
ling jest to him and her jerkily volatile pretences
of emotion failed to cleave him.
He began to turn his eyes impatiently toward
the office door. Martha had left him in charge,
promising to return in an hour, but he knew that
her hours were frequently afternoons as she ca-
vorted around the city, throwing out miniature
whirlwinds of appeals for money and attention.
In a corner of the office stood a huge photograph
of her latest god — a middle-aged, hawk-faced lec-
turer from England — that fertile land from
whence all lecturers flow — a man who had recently
startled the city by speaking on Oscar Wilde,
dressed in a black robe and standing in a chamber
dimly disgraced by candles, incense, and muslin
poppies. The theatrically savage features of this
man rested beneath a framed letter from a promi-
nent writer — one of those abortions in which the
great man tells a small magazine that he earnestly
hopes that it will amount to something and
believes that it can accomplish a great purpose if
it pursues the ideals which have illuminated his
work. Carl's eyes sought this framed joke for the
hundredth time, since his mood needed such arti-
ficial humor to make it less aware of itself, and at
this moment Martha came with the rapid gait
of one who is returning to vast and uncompleted
tasks, although her day's labors were at an end.
This was not a pose but merely a bouncing over-
abundance of energy. With her was Helen Wilber, ,
a young disciple who scarcely ever left her side.
Helen had fled from a wealthy family in another
city and traded her debutante's excuse for the
more fanciful robe of an ecstatic pilgrim starting
to ascend from the base of veiled mountains of
expression. She darted about on errands and in-
terviews and felt the humble fervors of a novice
— a tall, heavy girl with a long, soberly undevel-
oped face and abruptly turned features that were
garlanded with freckles. She had made a fine art
of her determination to persuade herself that she
was masculine, giving it the intense paraphernalia
of stolen words and gestures, but beneath her
dubiously mannish attire and desperately swing-
ing limbs the desires of an average woman were
feebly questioning the validity of her days. She
greeted Carl with her usual ringing assumption of
"Hello, old top! Been waiting long?"
"Not as long as I expected to wait, considering
Martha's superb indifference to the impudence of
time. Well, Martha, how have you been insult-
ing actualities — with your usual crescendoes of
Martha reached for the device of quickly slid-
ing the tip of her tongue over her upper lip, a
movement that always gave its opiate to her em-
barrassment or dismay, and then smiled with a
softly tragic aloofness.
"Oh, people weary me so!" she said. "They're so
impossible most of the time and so sublimely un-
aware of that fact! I've just come from seeing
an elderly woman who said that she might be in-
terested in helping us. She was fat and expen-
sively gowned and she wanted to know whether
we wouldn't print a story about the historical old
families of this city and how they had founded a
great, commercial and romantic fabric. I told her
that we were concerned with the restless and
flaming present, with the artists and thinkers of
our own time, and not with respectable trades-
people of the past. Of course I put it as nicely as
I could but she flew into a temper and said I was
insulting the people who had built up a great and
mighty city. . . people are so impossible!"
Carl envied the excited flow of her words and
wished that he could also feverishly felicitate his
emptiness at that particular moment.
"I felt like telling her that men who've made
money and put up ugly buildings aren't necessar-
ily important enough to talk about," said Helen,
with a hollow seriousness, "but of course I didn't
for fear of hurting Mart's chances."
"I get so tired of wasting words on people who
lead monotonous lives and can't see the variety
and beauty within life," said Martha. "When you
talk to them they treat you as though you were
a little, misbehaving girl who would soon be
spanked and put to bed. '0 you'll soon get over all
of this artistic nonsense,' they say."
"Ah, they can't see that a defiance like yours,
Mart, is a fire that only grows stronger when
someone tries to put it out," said Helen with a
spontaneously rhetorical worship.
Carl grinned at the dramatic sincerity with
which these two women lunged at colossal targets.
"What's all of this endless stuff about beauty ?"
he asked. "Beauty, beauty, I'm tired of the label.
No specific description but just a nice, sonorous
word. You might exalt your loves and punish
your aversions with a little more clarity."
"0 you can't diagram it as though it were a
problem in mathematics !" cried Martha. "It's too
big and mysterious for that. You simply know it
when you see it. It quickens your breath and
drops like music upon your soul. It's the thing
that makes you know that you have a soul — the
radiant weariness that springs from everything
that is strong, and lonely, and delicate, and elus-
ive, and tortured."
"The adjectives are stirring and the fact that
they happen to be meaningless is of little impor-
tance," said Carl. "I like the way in which you
make love to your emotions."
Martha gave a grimace of exasperation.
"You're the most insincere man I know," she
said. "Some day I'll fall in love with a man who
can be sincerely brilliant and beautiful and who
doesn't put his words together carefully, as
though they were unimportant toys."
"Such a fate may be exactly what you deserve,"
said Carl, still grinning.
"Here we've been tramping around all day, see-
ing stupid people, and you waste Mart's time with
your old arguments about beauty and words,"
said Helen with a jocose disgust. "I'm getting
famished. Let's go home."
"I forgot to tell you, Carl — I'm having a party
at the apartment this evening," said Martha.
"That strange, interesting Russian you met yes-
terday is coming — Alfred Kone. And Jarvin who
runs the literary page on the Dispatch. You'll
come with us now, won't you?"
"Yes, I'm interested in Kone. He carries a cer-
tain revolving electricity around with him. His
words and gestures are abruptly flashing like
showers of sparks. I'm almost tempted to find out
where the sparks come from."
"He's a natural pagan," said Martha with an ad-
miring sigh. "Don't you love that European air
about him 1 It's something that you wouldn't like
if you could put your finger on it — something
elusive and graceful, and sophisticated."
"Is it possible that you mean that Kone is intri-
cately redundant?" said Carl, carelessly.
"Carl, you always talk in such a careful, un-
earthly way," said Helen, with a combat of irrita-
tion and wonder in her voice.
"With most people talk is a weak, thin wine,"
said Carl. "They drink endless cups of it and at
last they become mildly intoxicated. I prefer to
achieve drunkenness with less effort."
The incongruous love-song of the conversation
continued as they departed for the Apperson
apartment. Carl became morbidly jovial as
though striving to goad himself into a mood, but
underneath his v^ords he w^as sad as he side-
stepped Helen's heavy lunges. "I have never
actually had youth — that glistening mixture of
blunders, sighs, cruel laughters, and a pleasant
sadness that does not cut too deeply," he said to
himself as he listened to the obviously proud youth
of the two women.
Kone had already arrived at the apartment and
was waiting on the front porch. His heavy body,
of medium height, held the arrogant bulge of
muscles beneath his light grey suit and his pale
brown face cradled a wraith of bitter alertness —
a sneer attempting to break through the conceal-
ing flesh. He had a short flattened nose, thick
lips, and the eyes of a forced and sprightly demon,
and the dark abundance of his eyebrows receded
into a low forehead, which in turn ended in a mass
of black hair brushed backward. He had come
to America some six years before this late Au-
tumn evening; had first worked as a porter in a
department store; had mastered English with a
miraculous speed; and was now studying at a
neighboring university and earning a living by
teaching Russian to classes of children. In place
of that violently disguised boredom commonly
known as a heart he seemed to have an over-
perfect dynamo that made him a mechanical wild-
man — there was a sharp, strained persistency in
all of his movements and the fact that he never
deigned to falter in his words and gestures gave
him an aspect of well-maintained artificiality. He
threw his vivid grin to Carl.
"Hah, poet who seems to sleep but is always
awake — greetings," he called out, in the crisply
dramatic way in which he usually spoke. " 'De-
mons lurk in your dimples' — you should have writ-
ten that line about yourself."
"Portraits are merely pretexts — secret portraits
of oneself tortuously extracted from the blankness
of other people," said Carl.
"You would like to believe that. The involved
egoism of youth!"
"It might be proving your case to answer you,"
said Carl, laughing.
Kone was one of the few men who could make
him laugh, since he had the odd habit of laughing
only in praise and scarcely ever in derision — a cus-
tom bom in the loneliness of his former years.
Kone greeted Martha, who came in later, with
words in which an adroitly raised respect and
daring sensuality were carefully mixed, but,
although her surface was flattered by his obei-
sance, his attentions failed to penetrate her radi-
ant self-immersion. That would have been a feat
worthy of century-old preservation. She listened,
like a convinced and mysterious referee, while
Kone and Carl indulged in the precise uselessness
of argument — a discussion on whether Dostoevsky
was an insane mystic, drunk with the details of
reality, or an emotional search-light stopping at
the edge of the world. The talk led to a question
of the exact value of originality.
"So, you are looking for originality," said Kone
with a metallic mockery in his voice. "A man may
stand on his head without in any way disturbing
the universe. Has it not occurred to you that life
is only a series of reiterations beneath the trans-
parent gowns of egoism?"
"I prefer the gowns when they are a little less
transparent. I might also have to know why a
man was standing on his head before I could make
any conjecture concerning the agitation of the
universe" — an amused respect was in Carl's voice.
He liked the stilted lunges of Kone.
Helen appeared in the doorway.
"Put your daggers aside for a while and come to
dinner," she said, with the most benign of toler-
After the meal Arthur Jarvin, the critic, arrived
with a woman named Edith Colson. Jarvin was
almost tall — one of many "almosts" composing
his entirety — and the plump old rose oval of his
face showed its immense self-satisfaction beneath
a fluffy mat of dark brown hair. He wore spec-
tacles and his features bore the petulant satisfac-
tion of one who has eaten too much for breakfast
and has not quite decided whether to regret that
fact or not. Since he held a contempt for the mad
limitations of time he always fondly lengthened
the utterance of his many "howevers" and "not-
withstandings." His friend, Edith Colson, was a
tall, slender woman who freed a satirical vivacity
with each of her words, thus making one regret
the fact that she had nothing to say. One felt
that to herself she was intrenched upon modest
but well-guarded hill-tops of emotion ; that, being
thinly perverse, she had purchased her castles in
Norway and scorned the more treacherous anima-
tions of a warmer climate. Her icy effervescences
— whirls of powdered snows — sometimes subsided
to a softer note which told you that the dab of
warmth left within her was reserved for a select
two or three beings, and that her conversation
was an elaborate form of repentance. Outwardly
she offered the effect of a carefully ornamented
self-protection. The greenish brown length of
her face accepted the problems of a long straight
nose, loosely thin lips, and large black eyes, and
was topped by a disciplined wealth of brownish
They sat in a circle on the porch and the conver-
sation skipped with too much ease between recent
books, plays, and local celebrities among writers
and artists. Jarvin, full of the books that had
come to him for reviewing purposes, compared
and dissected them with the air of a professor who
boredly but genially lectures to his special class.
"This book was passable: of course it couldn't
come up to so-and-so's book. This other one — well,
not quite as good as his last novel. A little too
much of one style, you know. That new French-
man? Yes, they're raising quite a fuss over him.
Grim, cruel stuff, but well done. Those books lose
a lot in the translations, though. That new poet?
Mm, he's lyrical enough but he just misses inspir-
ation. The new crop will have to go a long way
before they can approach Shelley or Wordsworth.
Have you seen the new Shaw play at the Olympic ?
After all, Shaw is one of the few men who can
make you laugh without being vulgar or obvious,"
Carl sat in silence and rearranged, in his head,
the difficult line of a new poem, and to his im-
mersion the conversation had become a slightly
irritating and well-memorized murmur. Endlessly
he muttered to himself: "your face is stencilled
with a pensiveness. . . . pensiveness . . . but I
need another adjective."
Kone ruffled the dulcet informations of the oth-
ers now and then with a polite but ironical jest
that was never too obviously at their expense;
Martha preserved her eagerly listening silence;
and Helen sat like a dazed woman at a verbal ban-
quet, scarcely daring to touch the glittering food
in front of her. Finally Jarvin found Carl's direc-
tion with a question that jerked him back to the
gathering although the exact words eluded him.
"What were you saying? I haven't been listen-
ing," said Carl.
"That's an insulting confession" — Edith Col-
son's voice snapped like a succession of breaking
wires. "Aren't you interested in books ?"
"Well, not in the broad and detailed way in
which they seem to interest the rest of you," said
Carl, with the sleepily candid smile which usually
made another person long to investigate the resil-
iency of his throat. "Once every five months I
read one that should be spoken of with great ve-
hemence and then gradually forgotten, but that's
a rare occurrence."
"O come, that's an easy, superior attitude," said
Jarvin. "Come down to the valley and join us,
"All right, I'm down. I've passed your hills of
judicial comment and reached the moonlight on
the street pavement outside. It suggests a con-
test. Suppose we all make up a line describing
the moonlight on the street — the moonlight that
falls like a quiet silver derision on all philosophies
— and we'll see which of us is best acquainted with
the penitent promise of words. I'll begin. "The
moonlight repressed the grey street, like a phan-
tom virtue." Only original lines — nothing from
"Here I am in the midst of a talk on Bergson,
and this young poet asks me to make up some
pretty lines about the moon," said Jarvin, in a
voice of poised scorn. "I read enough about the
moon in the flood of mushy poetry that pours into
"You might try to describe it yourself," said
Carl. "In that way you could provide an excel-
lent antidote for your disgust. It is, I assure you,
an important task to rescue the moon from the
rape of trite words."
"No, I'll leave that to minor poets," said Jarvin.
Carl gave him the malicious grin of one who is
enjoying a sham battle.
"If the moon doesn't satisfy you, Mr. Jarvin,
let's try that whispering prison of trees just out-
side of this window, or the people who place their
unsearching feet upon streets every day. Any-
thing except voluble shop-talk about the latest
mediocrities with now and then a philosopher or
scientist thrown in for purposes of repentance and
"Well, our young iconoclast even scorns philos-
ophy," said Jarvin. "Perhaps it speaks with too
much thought and authority to suit your fancy.
It's much easier to let your emotions juggle
"Philosophy is a bottle-faced dwarf drowning
with imposing howls in an ocean that does not see
him," said Carl, with a languid lack of interest.
"But philosophy should be read, if only with a
Jarvin threw another rock, with haste, and Carl
gave him another epigram. Kone, always a res-
tive audience, interposed.
"The anarchist, Pearlman, has just come to
town," he said. "Perhaps all of you know that he
served twenty years in prison for attempting to
kill a millionaire. A cruel penance !"
"I become rather tired of these anarchists who
are forever trying and plotting to blow up the
city-hall," said Edith. "They're neither artists
nor dull, useful citizens and they serve no purpose
that I can see. If they imagine that they can
change the present system of things by shrieking
and murdering people they ought to be sent to a
school for the feeble-minded."
"I'm not so sure that I'd want to see things
radically changed," said Jarvin. "Of course I
know that there's a great deal of graft and injus-
tice everywhere but I'm not sure that I'd care to
live in a Utopia — wickedness and cruelty are far
"The trouble with these anarchists and social-
ists is that they miss all the beauty in life," said
Martha. "If you show them a painting or a poem
they think that you're trying to waste their time,
unless it contains a social message."
"I think that it's cruel and useless to try to take
another man's life," said Helen, earnestly. "I hate
this fellow, Pearlman!"
Kone listened to this stagnant symposium of
viewpoints, with a patient sneer.
"In Russia we are more accustomed to murder,"
he said. "We have not attained the — what shall I
say? — the genial and practical compromises of
your American democracy. In our country, alas,
oppression takes off its mask and swings a red
sword! If you will realize that death does not
hold for us the mysterious terror that it holds for
you it may help you to understand Pearlman. He
came to this country — a young Russian — senti-
mental, idealistic, crowded with naive longings
for martyrdom. He wanted to die for the people —
that grand, massive, mysterious, and yet near and
real people! When he tried to kill a millionaire,
who was stubbornly refusing to arbitrate with his
striking men, Pearlman was choked with a poem
of liberation that could not be denied. Then the
icy reality of his next twenty years — condemned
by both society and the strikers whom he had
tried to help, surrounded by the rigid leer of iron
bars; and squeezed into a niche of futility . .
This crucified Russian does not need your sarcasm,
The conversation staggered and scampered for
another hour, with everyone save Carl animatedly
endeavoring to conceal the fact that he was in no
way interested in anyone's opinions except his
own, and at last the party packed away its come-
dies, irritations, and convictions, and arose from
the chairs. There were farewells, with just the
right compound of gaiety and caution, and the
Carl and Alfred Kone went to the latter's room
in a dormitory at the university and sat until an
early hour of the morning, arguing with an in-
tensity that made their tobacco smoke seem a
cloud of gunpowder. Kone was that tense incon-
gruity — an ironical sentimentalist. Within him,
emotion cajoled thought to a softer brutality and
thought intruded its staccato, exploring note upon
the limpid abandon of emotion. A deliberate
friendship rose between these men, like a translu-
cent wall through which men can see each other
without touching, for each one knew that the
other held a baffling insincerity of imagination
and was afraid that he might be deftly ridiculed
if he failed to measure his words. Kone admired
the nimble restlessness of Carl, a quahty which he
was compelled mechanically to imitate, while Carl
liked the explosive way in which Kone evaded him-
self. Kone was now almost thirty years old but
his machine-like capering made him seem much
younger and he bounded through life like a sophis-
ticated street-urchin, swindling himself with
fiercely endurable makeshifts in place of dead
dreams. His tragedy rested in the fact that he
was not a creator and the knowledge of this was
to him a secret poison from which he had to escape
with many a gale of make-believe laughter.
One afternoon, four months after the Apperson
party, Carl, Kone, and Jenesco, a Roumanian
painter, sat in the latter's little blending of studio
and bedroom and looked at a landscape which he
had just finished. Jenesco's eyes lazily flirted
with triumph and his small, ruddy face displayed
the expression of a child throwing a few last, un-
necessary grains upon a sand-hill.
"Boys, what do you think of it ?" he asked in a
tone of confident fatherhood.
Kone and Carl scanned the painting. It was a
mother-goose transfiguration, too quick in its ac-
ceptance of violent colors and bearing a blandly
forced simplicity. Red, indigo, and orange trees
were lining both sides of a road, and the trees
were painted in such a manner that they seemed
to be kneeling at the roadside. In the distance
white mountains, resembling the suggestion of
upturned cups, refused the blue wine of sky, and
in front of them were fields that looked like
wrinkled, green tablecloths spread out to dry. In
the sky one large pink cloud forlornly squandered
"Pleasant — pleasant," said Kone. "Not realis-
tic, and not fantastic. It deceives both of its mis-
"You don't see what I'm trying to get at," ans-
wered Jenesco. "I'm trying to make reality turn
an amiable somersault, as Carl would say. I want
to avoid the two extremes of painting the usual
photograph on the one hand and making some-
thing that no one can understand on the other."
Carl listened to the seething argument that fol-
lowed, with the feelings of one who hears an ex-
quisitely worthless routine of sound. He was
always amazed at the fact that people could argue
about art — a word pilfered from that last desper-
ate undulation with which an ego decorates the
slavery of mud. Arguments on art to him were
like the antics of a sign-painter defending the
precious label which he has painted upon certain
of the more indiscreet and impossible longings
within him — a piece of inflexible nonsense. He
felt that works of art so-called could be described
and admired with a novel and independently crea-
tive bow of words, but never defended and ex-
plained. Books on art were to him a futile and
microscopical attempt to inject logic into a deco-
rative curiosity. As he listened to the wrestling
sounds of the present argument, words within him
began to flatter his indifference.
"While Kone is talking, Jenesco sits, trying to
frame his reply and paying little heed to Kone's
words," he said to himself. "If Jenesco hears a
point that he has not previously considered he will
make a hasty attempt to shift his answer — a quick
sword-thrust at the new opponent — and then pro-
ceed to forget about the matter. Serious argu-
ments might be of value if they were not windy
and elaborate. If men could decide to condense
their views into neat typewritten sheets, carried
in a coat pocket and distributed among people,
they could save a great deal of cheated energy."
"The poet has been sitting here like an amused
statue," said Kone, after the argument had col-
lapsed to the usual stand still. "Come, we are
waiting for you to flay us."
"Splendid. Another tense battle. Haven't you
had enough?" said Carl. "I would suggest that
we hold a debate on whether that spider on the
wall will crawl into the sunlight near the window,
or whether it will remain in the shade. In this
way we can speculate upon how much the laws of
chance may alter the spider's conception of the
"Get away with that satirical pose!" cried
Carl smiled without answering, while the others
derided his self-immersion. Jenesco knew no other
weapon save an emotional club. He was a machin-
ist who had taken up painting two years before
this late winter afternoon and he still kept a little
shop where he occasionally sold and repaired ma-
chines. This combination of rough mechanic and
art-desiring man had given its surface lure to
Carl's imagination and he had commenced to spend
most of his time at Jenesco 's home. Short, and
with the body of a subdued, light-weight prize-
fighter, Jenesco was a small hurricane of physical
elations. He had the face of a corrupted cherub
that had sold its innocence to mental inanities, and
his mind was a conceited confusion of naive ideas.
He had been attracted to painting because it
brought his hands into motion, thus encouraging
the habit which they could not forget after their
working hours, and because it taught color and
flexibility to the hard greys, browns, and blacks
of his daily toil. He belonged to that band of men
who spend a lifetime in stubbornly walking down
a road of artistic effort which does not lead them
to any distinct surrender. Their imaginations are
not weak enough to kneel before the drab regulari-
ties of life and not strong enough to escape from
the instinctive push of dead men's realities.
From that afternoon on, Carl began to see more
of Jenesco and less of Kone. Kone was not a crea-
tor but merely transposed, with a hungry fire, the
sentences of other men, and after you solved the
snapping tricks with which he did this, his ironies
became thin and lamely transparent. Carl pre-
ferred the wolfish wit with which Jenesco, an
ogling Proletarian, tore silk and satin from the
shrinking flesh of obvious hypocrisies in life. It
was at least a lurching circus of words — a pulsat-
ing buffoonery. He scarcely ever saw Martha now,
since their self-immersions tended to create a
sterile restraint between them, with words and
hands playing the part of irrelevant intruders.
Each of them secretly despised life and its people,
while giving a pretended attention, but they used
different methods. Martha fluttered her emotional
veils, with a breathless coercion, while Carl dodged
beneath a carnival of grotesquely mated words.
To amuse the secret loneliness which often be-
came a boring acid he formed, with Jenesco, that
hollow melee known as a debating club; called it
"The Questioners" — prodded by a ghost of humor
— and exhibited his words in the formal vaude-
ville-show. The performances occurred at the
studio of a man named Fyodor Murovitch, a young
Polish sculptor with a softly melodramatic abund-
ance of dark brown hair and the face of a
strangely waspish saint — a saint who was tempt-
ing himself with malices in order to conquer them.
One evening Carl sat in this place, drained by the
empty ritual of responding to noisy and firmly
convinced people and ogling his nerves with the
rhythm of pipe smoke. He looked up and saw
a woman — Olga Ramely — standing beside him.
His eyes experimented with the eyes of this
stranger and suddenly contracted. Her eyes
seemed to be two drops of quivering sweat left
behind by an emotional crucifixion. They were sen-
sitive with essences. Greyish-green, larger than a
dwindled sky, lost in a perilous dream of wakeful-
ness, holding the phantom glow of incredible tor-
tures, friendly to mental recklessness, they were
like a ludicrously clever imitation of his own eyes
and he trembled in the presence of an inexplicable
deception. His imagination was becoming a de-
tached devil much in need of correction. Olga
Ramely spoke to him.
"I've been watching you all evening. The light
from the candles over your head fell upon your
yellow hair and put shadows on your face. The
shadows gave your face a soft excuse and you
looked half like a sprite and half like a martyr.
There was an indelicately impish weariness on
your face. Your hair was like light, and in one
glistening attempt it tried to reach the weariness,
but couldn't. I told myself that you were not the
man that people say you are."
He made his peace with her eyes, moved by a
profound embarrassment, and discovered the rest
of her face, with an abject and yet faintly skep-
tical desire. The surface flattery of her words had
been almost without meaning to him, but her voice
had given him a problem — deep with an alto
scheme, like a trailing memory of pain, and quiv-
ering rebelliously under the disciplines of thought.
He examined her face for an affirmation of the
voice. Short, dark brown curls encumbered her
head, like a wig of lost thoughts undulating in an
effort to capture reality, and her skin was the
smoothly troubled fusion of white and brown.
Her nose was of moderate length and curved
slightly outward, in a subdued question of flesh;
her lips were small and thin — pliant devices of
doubt — and a tight survival of plumpness upon
her face told of a lucidly cherubic effect that had
existed before life dropped its hands heavily upon
her. Her body, verging on tallness, was immersed
in a last skirmish with youth.
"What have you heard them say about me?"
he asked, craving the evasion of words that would
conceal a unique tumult within him.
"I've heard people say that you were a thief,
and a rascal, and a disagreeable idiot, and a
poseur, and a liar, and an overwhelming egoist."
"What did you think of this dime-novel version
"I have been, at times, partial to crude mon-
sters, but your work was a curious contradiction.
Why do they hate you ?"
"Hatred is, of course, fear — fear wildly attempt-
ing to justify its presence. With most people
this fear skulks within a harmless parade of
adjectives, while others are compelled to fall back
upon their hands. And so people commit actual
murders while others slay their opponents in con-
versation. The former is apt to be a little more
convincing than the latter, though."
Carl spoke slowly, still correcting the turbu-
lence of his mind with a plausible display of
words, and almost unconscious of what he was
"You've left out a hatred for hypocrisy," said
Olga, with the same abstracted indifference to
words and the same instinctive cunning at piecing
them together. "Some of the people who have
been flaying you alive walked up to you to-night
with outstretched hands and congratulations. And
I felt the emotion of one too tired to have more
than a twinge of disgust."
"It requires no effort to be stoical to this joke,"
said Carl, "The masks are too exquisitely futile
to become interesting unless, indeed, they attain
a moment of dextrous humor."
Jenesco and Murovitch, who had been disputing
in a corner of the studio, walked over and offered
a belated introduction.
"Sorry to interrupt love scene, but maybe you
do not know names of each other," said Murovitch
in his deliberate, shattered English. "Names tell
people how much like nothing they are. But
maybe both of you want to be somebody, in which
case it is wise to pity you."
"You have a crudely spontaneous imagination
— it spies love scenes and vacuums with a truly
lumbering swiftness," said Carl, annoyed at the
Murovitch laughed — he had made a rehgion of
giving and receiving heavy blows and it made an
excellent screen for his inner timidities.
"I like your frankness. It reminds me of a
heavy negro. It's black and excited," said Olga.
"Felman's complexion is a little dirty itself,"
said Murovitch, defiling his saint-like face with
a prearranged grin.
As Carl and Olga walked to the studio where
she was living with a woman friend, she told him
some of the immediate facts of her life, as though
clearing away an opaquely intruding rubbish.
"I'm working now as a waitress in a little cafe-
teria on Winthrop street. Eight in the morning
to three in the afternoon. Two afternoons a week
off. These burns on my hands come from the
hot coffee. On the two afternoons I write poetry.
My body, you see, passes into a less visible con-
duct, and thoughts rattle more effectively than
china cups. Then, on the next morning, I am
forced to recollect that life is in a continual
conspiracy to prevent this transformation of
manners. The plates are once more held up.
Beans and roast beef refuse to betray the secret."
They had reached the studio and were seated
opposite to each other.
"And I work every morning in a tobacco shop,"
said Carl. "Since life works with ravishing incon-
gruities, everything there should be burned except
the cigars. Meditating on this, I am able to
wait more peacefully on the customers. Cringing
sounds slip from my lips. 'Yes, MacLane will
win the next fight and the weather is terrible.'
Strange, twisted little payments of sound. Life
clinks them in his empty purse."
"Be romantic — make it the brave bow to an
indelicate dream," said Olga.
"A background of colored compensations?
They, too, are endurable if you don't turn your
head too often."
The adventure of stealing from a cautious world
to an alcove of unguarded expression changed
their physical desires into brightly unheeded
guests lurking just outside of their longing to
talk to each other. When their hands touched at
last, they laughed at the minute surprise tendered
by their flesh. They became two secret isolations
examining a velvet hallucination of fusion. Their
bodies touched while investigating this enticing
The winter bickered with spring; days gave
their imaginary separation of time; Olga and
Carl stooped to the task of conjuring myriads
of fancifully plausible tongues from their dream
of perished identities lost in one search. Then
Olga left with a theater company that was about
to tour the middle west, having managed to
secure the small part of a garrulous chambermaid,
and Carl glided into a riot of writing, waiting for
the telegram that would send him to join her in
a far western city where her company would
stage its last performances. In the meantime,
he resolved to visit a wealthy uncle who lived in
the south and wanted to see this "queer nephew
of mine, who scribbles poetry and doesn't care
about making money."
As he sat one morning in an elevated railroad
coach, with valises at his side, commencing the
journey to the city in which his uncle lived, his
mood was glittering and aimless. He danced with
outlines of Olga's words ; hummed briskly saccha-
rine tunes ; and trifled with the contours of people
seated near him. Across the aisle a fatly rosy
man was reading a newspaper and Carl's gaze
idly struck the front page and absorbed the head-
lines. In a corner of the page he came to the
words: "Actress Dies in M ."
His intuition, springing from that complaint
vaguely known as metaphysical, changed his skin
to a subtle frost and laid its squeezing pressure
upon his eyes. The quick and heavy beat of his
heart became frantically audible to his ears, like
a gauntly terrifying horseman riding over him,
and his mind changed to a loud confusion. He
jumped across the aisle, tore the paper from the
gaping man, and read that the woman whom
he loved had instantly died after an accident.
Assailed by an oblique rain of black claws, he
tottered from the car, leaving his valises in the
aisle. The black claws vanished; his heart and
mind became extinct; and nothing remained save
a body turned to ice and guided by instinct.
Slowly, and with a brittle indecision in each step,
he walked through the bickering brightness of one
street after another, hearing and seeing nothing.
He reached the bold flatness of the stone apart-
ment building; read the delayed telegram held
out by his mother, with the barest shiver of
returning life, and dropped upon his bed.
Sunlight stood within the small room, like an
emaciated patriarch entering through grey shades.
Sunlight ignored the glossy chastities of furniture
and dull yellow walls, and looked intently at the
bed standing in one corner of the room. A long
human collapse in black clothes stuck to the white
bedspread. A blotch of blonde hair rested stilly
in the weak light and hinted of a face. The body
shook now and then as though an inquisitively
alien hand were investigating its lifelessness.
Then sobs pushed their way from the hidden face
— an irregular orgy of distorted lyricism. It was
as though a martyr were licking up the blood
on his wounds and spitting it out in long gurgles
of lunatic delight. The sobs were separated by
rattling pauses that reminded one of a still living
skeleton endlessly wrestling with death. The
skeleton and the martyr sometimes felicitated each
other upon their endurance, and short silences,
like uneasy lies, glided from the hidden face.
Then the bleeding turmoil once more streamed
upon the air of the room, almost extinguishing
the dim sunlight.
A peculiar species of happiness lurked beneath
the weeping. Grief, hating itself, found a revenge-
ful pleasure in attempting to tear and exhaust
itself into death. Sometimes the turmoil sub-
sided to a light and sibilant fight for breath.
The animal noise departed then and a small soul,
much lighter than a phantom sin, plucked unavail-
ingly at the mysterious spear that had suddenly
coerced its breast. . . . The dark words of
twilight finally entered the room, making an
opera of the marred lyricism that esca'ped from
the hidden face on the bed. Then night pardoned
the deficiencies of the room and corrected them
with moonlight, creating a tragic and chaste
boudoir. Carl Felman felt emptied of all sound,
and a mad craving for motion stabbed his limbs.
He wanted to rush endlessly into space, barely
supported by the breathless consolation of run-
ning after something that could never be caught.
This would also be of great value to his heart,
which was a stiffly smirking acrobat who has
broken his legs but still strives to continue the
He leaped from the bed and seized his cap.
His mother, who had been entering his room at
intervals and vainly questioning him, stopped him
at the outer doorway.
"Carl, where are you going?" she cried, in a
sharply fearful voice.
With a hugely mechanical effort he managed
to twist low sounds from his useless lips.
"Just — for a — walk — back — soon."
Without heeding her protests and questions, he
fled down to the street. Human beings had disap-
peared, but he could see faces indented on the
fronts of houses. One had a look of mangled
suffering; another was studiously wicked, like a
learned burglar; and a third bore the pathetic
leer of a venturesome housemaid. He picked up
these details, glanced at them a moment, and then
threw them aside as though they were scandals
from another planet. He passed into a region of
three-story rooming-houses — flat wretches holding
an air of patient cowardice. People surreptitiously
filtered from the houses and walked down the
street with Carl — chorus girls with plump, sneaky
faces, underworld hoodlums with an air of wanly
etched bravado, ponderously rollicking servant
girls, clerks with the faces of genial mice, and
meekly dazed old men stumping to their dish-
washing jobs. To Carl they were also hurrying
after something that had vanished and cajoling
their mingled emptiness and pain with swift
motion. Now and then he waved an arm to them
in greeting, while an unearthly smile dug into
his face. His gesture, when observed, was taken
for an intended blow and he left attitudes of fear
and pugnacity behind him.
He crossed a bridge above a narrowly turbid
river. The oily lights and toiling tug-boats were
to him an inexplicable affront. Their stillness and
slow motion insulted his passion for speed and
with the spite of a child he looked down at his
feet for a stone to throw at them. Finding a
pavement block, he cast it into the river and
rushed along, feeling for a second an exquisite
relief. He passed into a crowded theater and
business section. The strained melee of lights and
noises became an intensely sympathetic audience,
urging on his race, and the faces and forms of
human beings met in an applauding confusion.
With the cunning of a blind animal, he darted
through their ranks and avoided collisions.
Finally he reached another apartment-house
region — large brick boxes without a vestige of
expression. "The faces are gone!" he cried, with
a gasping incredulity, as though inanimate things
had alone become real to him. Moonlight, unable
to fathom their petty baldness, clung to them
with an attitude of limpid disgust. Thickly con-
tented families, mild and tightly garnished, issued
from the doorways, trundling to some moving-
picture show or ice-cream palace. An aspect of
well-washed and hollow serenity protested against
Carl's direct flight. Wrapped by this time in a
warmly merciful daze, he did not detect the drably
swaying counterfeit of happiness that would have
awakened within him a maniacal response.
He sped down street after street like an
inhuman hunter, and came to rows of wooden
houses separated by large fields and blackguarded
by the smoke of nearby factories and mills. An
attitude of mildewed supplication — a beggar rising
from ferns and mud — lifted itself over the scene.
Rushing along, he plunged into the open country,
where wild flowers, ditches, and fields of corn
pungently conversed with moonlight in a language
too simple and formless for human ears to catch.
But Carl's ears had become inhuman, and he
started a loud talk with the growing objects
around him, revelling in their sympathy and
advice. By this time his long, half -running walk
had weakened him and he began to lurch over
the soft earth of the road like a crushed and
The ingenuous brilliance of a cloudless morning
stood hugely over the green fields and yellowish
brown roads and an air of alert innocence went
exploring between the flowers and ditches. Har-
riet Radler walked slowly down the country road
on her way to the schoolhouse where she ruled
a little band of demons, drudges, minor poets, and
clowns. She lingered along the roadside, some-
times stooping to tear a tiger lily from the shallow
ditch. Slender and short, a pliant virginity twined
itself around her body. Her young face, pink and
barely whipped, had been marked by a tentative
sorrow and was hungering for the actual battle.
Her black and white clothes lazily flirted with
imps of morning air and were encouraged by her
Looking down at the ditch, she saw the half-
concealed form of a man lying in the water, with
his head and arms resting upon the bank. A trag-
edy of dry mud stamped its grey mosaic over his
face. His blonde hair drooped with dirt like a
trampled sunflower. The Pierrot-like hesitation of
his features peeped beneath the dirt — a still and
frightened ritual. With the horror of one who
believes that she is beholding a dead man, Harriet
knelt beside the figure and shook its head, her
face turned away and her eyes tightly closed.
Then she heard a mingled rustle and splash and
saw that the man was rising to his feet. He stood
with bent knees over the mud of the ditch, his
black clothes garlanded with slime, his face twitch-
ing into life beneath its stiff mask of earth. With
a squeal of fright she scrambled to her feet and
ran down the road. The man in the ditch, Carl
Felman, felt that something was still evading him
and once more experienced the hunter's frenzy
that had tumbled him over the night. Gripped by
a superhuman agility, he transcended his stiff
joints and pursued her down the road. He caught
her, his hands dropping upon her shoulders and
whirling her around. She faced him with uplifted
arms, a turbulence of fright and curiosity swiftly
toying with her eyes and mouth. He lowered his
hands and stood limply before her.
"Do you know what grief is?" he asked, in an
almost indistinct voice.
She stared and did not answer.
"Do you know what grief is?" he asked, in a
softly clear voice.
A look of loose wonder came to her face.
"Do you know what grief is?" he asked, in an
almost loud voice.
A darkly smiling contemplation revised the lines
of her face.
"Yes," she whispered.
Without another word they both walked down
the country road together.
HE train in which Carl was riding
rolled slowly through the outskirts
of a southern city and he looked
out at the rows of negro cottages
and hovels that plaintively cringed
underneath the wide foliage of
willow and magnolia trees. Most of the cottages
were unpainted and grey with the impersonally
chaste kiss of time, while the hovels were mere
flimsy boxes covered with black tar paper. Sun-
flowers and morning glories stood amid the weeds
and twined about the slanting fences like gaudy
virgins dismayed at their sight of a lewdly dis-
ordered room and appealing to the sunlight for
protection. Negro women in faded sunbonnets
and wrappers could sometimes be seen shuffling
down the thickly dusty roads and negro children,
in weird incoherences of tattered clothes, tumbled
around the humble doorsteps. The children were
little black madmen unconsciously dodging a huge
fist that was concealed beneath the scene. The
dust of a late August morning had dropped upon
all things, sifting its listless sadness into everj^
crevice and crack, and even the fierce sun could
not dispel this invasion.
Every shade of this scene was an accurately
friendly answer to Carl's mood and he squandered
the brooding light of his eyes upon all of the
visual details outside of the train window. The
mask of careless bitterness upon his face said
its hello to the cowering and sinister apathy of
the houses and people, and viciouslj' he longed to
leap out of the window and join the unashamed
animal rites w^hich these hovels and human beings
were parading. Here an alien race was standing
amid clouds of evil-smelling squalor and staring at
its broken longings and dreams — staring \\'ith a
wild hopelessness. This race had lost its own civil-
ization and was clumsilj' imitating that of the
white man, not because of any innate desire, but
because it had been forced to blend into its sur-
roundings or perish, and Carl felt that all of his
life had also been an animated lie of flesh and
speech, devised to aid him in escaping from the
contemptuous eyes that vastly hemmed him in.
And now, with the feelings of a man who had
neatly murdered himself, he was planning to turn
the knives of his thoughts and emotions upon
other people, not for revenge, but because the
marred ghost of himself harshly desired to con-
vince itself that it was still alive. If this ghost
had yielded to the subterfuges of kindness and
gentleness it would have become too much aware
of its own thin remoteness from life, and cruelty
alone could induce it to believe that it was still
welded to the actualities of existence.
As Carl sat at the window he could often hear
the grotesquely quavering, boldly mellow laughter
of negro men trudging to their work, but these
sounds did not express humor to him. They held
the strong effort of men to flee from tormenting
longings and the numbly vicious rebuke of pov-
erty, and the sounds which these men released
merely symbolized the long strides of their fancied
escape. Laughter can be merely the explosive
sound with which human beings seek to demolish
each other — the indirect weapon of self-hatred.
Carl laughed with a strained loudness, throwing
a magnified echo to the negroes on the dusty roads
outside, and a drowsily plump, middle-aged woman
in an opposite seat opened her mouth widely and
huddled into a corner, fearing that she might be
attacked by a maniac. He gave her a glance and
feasted upon her fear, for her shrinking attitude
was falsely and deliciously persuading the ghost
of himself that it still held a potency over other
Sometimes a song crazily drifted to Carl's ears
from one of the negro cottages — a song that was
weighted with loosely undulating sadness — and he
listened with a stern greediness. Music is a huge,
treacherous sound made by thoughts and emotions
to console them for their feeling of minute mor-
tality, and after it has given them its dream of
permanent size it disappears, slaying the illusion
with silence. Now it brought a delusion of sub-
stantiality to the ghost within the mould of Carl's
flesh and he listened in a trance of gratitude. Lost
in the obliterations of his grief, he felt infinitely
nearer to these abject, musical negroes outside
than to the artificially silent, stiffly satisfied white
people with whom he was riding. Grief, which
is an insane tyrant among emotions, has an effort-
less way of crossing all boundaries and walls, but
it does not reveal any hidden oneness between
human beings. Grief places men and women in a
vacuum of renunciation, or shows them that they
have little connection with the people around
them and that they have been enduring an alien
camp. Ruled by this latter discovery, Carl looked
with an undisguised hatred at the formal, com-
placent white people in the railway coach and
felt that he was deeply related to the negroes
Almost three months had passed since the invis-
ible knife had swung into the middle of his being,
and since he had staggered across the agitated
sincerity of night to the peaceful compassion of
the young school teacher. Now and then he
remembered their silent walk down the sturdy
brightness of the country road — a silence which
had been a soft wreath ironically thrown upon
the weakness of words — and the troubled way in
which she had helped him brush his clothes and
wash his face, and the stumbling simplicity of
the words with which she had tried to comfort
him. Although he had been a stranger to her, she
had thrown aside that distrust which is born of
sensual pride and a cheaply purchased worldly
wisdom, influenced by the helpless directness of
his demeanor and by the supple humility which a
grief of her own had once left within her. The
force of her fearlessness had fallen upon him like
the sweeping touch of another world, and in his
daze he had actually believed that she had been
sent by the woman whom he had lost as an alert
messenger striving to teach him how to hold his
ghostlike shoulders up beneath a future burden.
If she had held a human aspect to him he would
have hated and reviled her, for then she would
have been merely an atom in the vast, turbid
reality that had slowly lured him to an imbecilic
torture. He accepted the curves of her body as
an unearthly visitation and possessed them as one
who passes through a fragile ritual. But after
his departure from her, as he once more walked
down the shaggy, solid country road, she had
tiptoed away from him with a spectral quickness,
and the clamor of a world had once more attacked
him, like the scattered falsehoods of an idiot.
The rustle of trees had become an insignificant
whisper of defeat ; the songs of birds had changed
to the shrill vacuities with which a monster enter-
tained himself; the colored groups of flowers had
become the pitiful remains of a violated carnival;
the earth beneath his feet had altered to the stolid
aloofness of a giant moron; and the sunlight had
seemed to be a theatrical accident.
When he had reached the city, with its orderly
ranks of houses and factories and its dully precise
pavements, the scene had been to him a cunning
mirage made by dying people to suppress their
realization of the advancing destruction. The
people on the streets had held the complicated
glee and perplexity of an insane slave trying to
extract an imaginary importance from his bond-
age. He had longed to jump at their throats
and silence the feverish lie that was reviling the
truthful stare of his eyes and only his physical
exhaustion had prevented him from doing this.
Grief is a spontaneous welcome sent to the insan-
ity that lurks within all human beings, and its
invitation greets a responsive strength or a fright-
ened weakness of imagination, according to the
man or woman who receives it.
And so he had plodded back to his home,
carrying within him a numb confusion that was
sometimes disrupted by vicious impulses, and
forcing the ghost of himself into a motion which
it could not understand. He had tried to answer
the angry and uneasy questions of his parents
with plausible lies at his own expense. Yes, he
had met someone who had given him bad news
and in a fit of temper he had rushed from the
railroad station and deserted his valises. What
was in the telegram? Oh, just a message from
a friend. Where had he been for the past two
days ? Why, he had gone on a spree and had slept
off his drunkenness at the house of a friend.
Shouldn't he be locked in an insane asylum ? Yes,
but life had already granted him that favor. With
a glib tongue he tried to serenade the barren
comedy of improbabilities to which he had
returned, but he scarcely heard the words that
he was uttering, and as he wrung them from the
empty ghost that was within him he longed to
strike his parents in the face and feed greedily
upon their rage and astonishment, in an effort
to convince himself that he was still substantially
powerful, still able to assert his reality by injuring
the people around him. With an act of this kind
he could destroy the indifferent fantasy of life
and change it to a tangible and active opponent.
The man standing before him — his father — was
merely an irritating puppet whose lack of under-
standing moved jerkily, governed by the hands
of an ignorant dream.
With a cry of hatred, Carl struck his father
in the face and watched him reel back against
the wall of the dining-room with a feeling of warm
triumph. He struck him again and revelled in
the blood that decorated the man's lips. His
mother shrieked with fear; his father returned
the blows; and the two men fought around the
room, overturning chairs and vases. Several
neighbors, brought by the cries of his mother,
rushed in and overpowered him. Together with
his father, they held him down while someone
summoned a patrol wagon, and he was taken to
a cell in a police station. As he sat in the flatly
smelling semi-gloom of the cell he caressed, with
an overpowering fondness, the blood that had
stiffened upon parts of his face, for it mutely
testified that he had conquered the remote lie
around him and altered it to a satisfying enemy.
He had persuaded himself that he was still alive,
and the blows which he had given his father had
been the first proof of this illusory emancipation.
Throughout the night, as he shifted upon the iron
shelf that was his bed, he muttered to himself
at regular intervals, "I am alive, I am still alive,"
as though he were trying to preserve a triumphant
dream that would soon disappear, and the grief
within him rocked to and fro upon the words,
using them as a cradle.
But when the morning dodged shamefacedly
into his cell, bringing with it a faint retinue of
city sounds, the annoying fantasy returned with
full vigor, and the ghost within him stealthily
assumed possession of his flesh. Once more he
was a thinly wounded spectator, filled with an
impotent hatred at the melee about him and
longing for the lusty release of physical motion.
Two small boys, lying upon their stomachs, peered
through the grating of his cell window, which
stood on a level with the sidewalk outside, and
jibed at him. He cursed them incessantly, with
an anger that was not directed at them, but at
the meaningless tensions of their voices, and with
the tumult of his own voice he vainly strove to
shake the wraith within him to firmer outlines.
As he stood before the magistrate a few hours
later, an incredulous sneer was on his face, as
though the man at the desk above him were a
pompous, talkative scarecrow, and with a stubborn
silence he confronted the questions that were
thrown at him. In a low, hesitating voice his
father declared that he feared that his son had
become insane, and the judge ordered an exami-
nation by one of the city physicians. Carl was
returned to his cell, after his parents had pelted
him with half-angry and half-bewildered sentences
in an ante-room of the court, and as he sat again
in his cell, surveying the rigid jeer of the iron
bars, his hatred began to listen to the advice
of cunning — a cunning pilfered from the wilted
depths of his despair. He began to see that
physical blows and silence were crude and inef-
fective weapons in his attack upon the insulting
commotion of life and that, if he desired to injure
human beings so that both he and they might
become real for a moment, he must use more
indirect and ingenious methods.
When the city physician, a tall, briskly-balanced
man with no imagination, questioned him in his
cell, he became a blandly appealing and submissive
"Yes, doctor, I had a nervous breakdown from
overstudy, you know, and for a time I'm afraid
that I lost my reason. They tell me that I struck
my father and this has horrified me, as I haven't
the slightest recollection of what I did. But I've
gathered myself together now and I can promise
you that I'll never lose control of myself again —
never! And I'm awfully sorry for what I did. I
can assure you of the sincerity of my repentance."
The physician was putty in Carl's adroit hands
— this composed young man with an intelligent,
contrite speech must, of course, be quite sane.
Carl, as he spoke to this man, slowly formed an
evil grin beneath the cool mask of his face, and
he relished the task of showering upon this man
earnest platitudes, smooth imitations of that lim-
ited sleep known as "common sense," and words
of self-reproach, because this trickery brought
back to him his old sense of power over his sur-
roundings and offered a subtle outlet for his hatred
of life. The physician ended by shaking his hand
with a genial respect and when evening came he
was given his freedom.
He returned to his home, repeating the soft
treachery of his words while his fists still longed
to lunge out at the faces in front of him, but the
shrewdness of a ghost determined to regain a
semblance of life by cleverly deceiving and pun-
ishing the people around it came to his rescue
and controlled his body. His parents had felt
wrathful at the presence of something which they
could only dimly see and which he made no effort
to clarify, but life had taught them to make a
god of submission, and a heavy tenderness mingled
with an alert fear crept into their posture toward
him. He trudged back to the loquacious, coarse
emptiness of his clerkship at the tobacco shop
and shunned the world that he had previously
inhabited, for he feared that if he met anyone
whom he knew he would feel again the irresistible
inclination to interrogate their throats, and he
knew that these impulses would only lead to his
own destruction. When he accidentally met some
acquaintance on the street, he would hurry on
like a nervous criminal, ignoring the other's
He prowled about the city, still in search of a
violent dream that could offer its delusion of
reckless strength to the mutilated spirit whose
complaints drove him on. He ran to the soiled
raptures of prostitutes and sensually oppressed,
adventurous girls who could be picked up on the
streets, and gave them a twisted symphony of
blows, curses, whispered insinuations, lies, while
he revelled in the illusion of cruelty that was
lending a false reality to the thin futilities of
his mind and flesh. With a mixture of brutality
and delicately simulated caresses, he overawed
these women and they felt themselves in the
presence of a charming, abstracted fiend, whose
kaleidoscopic insincerity only made them long to
change it to a gesture of actual love. He sought
the company of thieves and hoodlums, and at first
they distrusted him because his restrained man-
ners and gently removed look were not proper
credentials, but when they saw how eager he was
for the impact of fists, and how he could take a
blow and rise with a grin of stunned delight, they
accepted him as an eccentric brother. They did
not know that these actions were not born of
courage, but were caused by a gigantic longing
for physical pain — pain that could shock his numb
spirit into a feeling of sharply hideous communion
with an actual world.
But finally this life began to weary him because
it could not reach the flimsy loneliness that stood
within him. He carried within him at all times
an audience of ghostly thoughts and emotions,
and they were at last becoming bored with the
stolen melodrama. He determined to practice an
economy in movements and words, and he walked
alone at night and on streets where the possibility
of meeting someone who knew him would be
distant. He watched the syncopated gliding of
people with the irritation of a stranger. The men
and women who drifted or bobbed along were
cardboard mannikins to him and he vainly tried
to give life to their flatness and lack of color.
Sometimes he would pause and touch his arm and
face, wondering at the odd inadequateness of their
presence. Olga had become a living but invisible
being who was constantly groping for him, with
eyes unused to the outlines of earth, and some-
times finding his shoulder in a fleeting and
accidental way. When this happened, he would
turn around abruptly and berate his inability to
extract her form from the concealing air. At such
times he would often speak to her. "Olga . . .
Olga . . . what is this unsought blindness that has
come to both of us?" he would cry into the night
air of a street. "A cruel chicanery ... a blurred
and simple pause ... a little fantasy within a huge
one? Am I a coward rolling in the mud that
stretches before a vast gate? Life seems a fan-
tastic conspiracy, panting and rattling in its
efforts to hide the emptiness beneath it . . .
Olga . . . take me to your burnished hermitage
... I am tired."
He would walk on, trying to imagine what her
answer had been, and winning an elusive and
deliberately wrought consolation that stayed for
an hour and then gradually departed. His life
had settled into the recurrence of these reactions,
when a second invitation arrived from his wealthy
uncle in the southern city, and he had accepted
merely because he wanted a new arena for his
struggle with a discredited reality — fresher tar-
gets and a change in the illusion's surface.
And now he was seated in the train that slowly-
rolled through the outskirts of a southern city
and giving his eyes to the squalid negro section
that unfurled before him. . . .
He turned from the window and strove to place
an expression of close-lipped serenity on his face,
for the train had almost reached the station. He
had not seen his uncle for years and he played
with dim memories of the man's appearance.
When he walked down the station platform he
found that his uncle, Doctor Max Edleman, was
waiting just outside of the iron gates. Doctor
Edleman was a man of sixty years, sturdily
rotund, with a tall body that was beginning to
be disgraced by its expanding paunch. His head
was unusually large and ruled by small blue eyes
and the sharply turned breadth of a nose. His
great, thick lips were tightly withdrawn to an out-
line of benign patience and his florid face ridiculed
the trace of wrinkles that had flicked it. His
greyish blonde hair was still fairly abundant, and
all of him suggested a man who was uniquely
intact because he had scarcely ever allowed life
to clutch him familiarly. Since he was an Alsatian
Jew, he kissed Carl carefully on both cheeks, and
this annoyed Carl, not from the usual masculine
reasons, but because he felt that this was a jocose
insult from a fantasy that despised him, but he
submitted with a flitting grimace.
He took Carl to an automobile and after they
had been driven away he smothered him with
"Your dear mother tells me that you have been
acting queerly of late," he said, in the heavily-
hieasured way of speaking he had. "You have
been refusing to speak to anyone and staying
away from home — bringing worry to your dear
mother. It seems to me that you have given
enough care and trouble to your parents, and
that it's about time that you acted like a normal
man. I understand that you have been dissipating
and going with dissolute people. You are twenty-
five now and there is no longer any excuse for
this wildness. What have you to say for your-
"Don't ask me to explain things that you
couldn't understand," said Carl, returning to act
in the falsely unpleasant play. "I have had a
great grief and I'm trying in my own way to
make it a friend of mine. If I tell you that your
questions bring back wounds, I am sure that you
will not desire to hurt me."
He gave his uncle words that would appease
and disarm him, while at the same time evading
his queries, and this game gave him a smooth
semblance of life.
"So-o, so-o, I have no desire to penetrate your
secrets," said Dr. Edleman, in a kindly voice that
feebly strove to comprehend. "I am simply advis-
ing you to pull yourself together. Show some
consideration for the people around you."
He continued to offer the benevolent adultera-
tions of his advice, and as Carl listened he
suddenly thought of a high-school teacher who
had once rebuked him for bringing to class a
theme entitled "Women Who Walk the Streets,"
and with a vaporously swinging amusement in
his heart he almost felt human again. This
fantasy could hold a blustering smirk now and
then — its only extenuation. But the nearness
vanished as his uncle's voice became a swindling
monotone, angering him with its formal pretense
of life. Carefully, and with a ghostlike insincerity
that bribed his voice with lightness, he gave
words that could hold this man at arm's length.
The strain of adapting his words to the intelli-
gence of the man beside him brought him a closer
relation to the bickering phantasmagoria of men
and their motives without in any way summoning
his own thoughts and emotions. Dr. Edleman
felt that his nephew was skillfully attempting
to defend a selfish past and bringing into the
service of this motive a graceful keenness of
mind, but beyond this point Carl's words were
unable to affect him.
"I have always admired your brilliancy," he
said, "and I only wish that you would use it in
the right way. A young man must pay some
attention to the desires and opinions of older
people. It will be a glad day for me when I see
that you are using your talents to bring happiness
to other people. A glad day."
Carl gave a sigh to the grave dullness that
marched forth in his uncle's voice and meditated
upon the curious differences in sound with which
people petted their limitations and discretions.
These differences were known as words, and when
they pleased a great number of people they were
hailed as symbols of genius or power, but Carl
could see no distinction between any of them.
Like a horde of tired servants, they pranced to
the prides and hatreds of men and then returned
to their common grave, and only their exact
arrangement gave them a flitting assumption of
life. "What is the difference between this old
man and myself? Several keys to false doors of
thought and emotion, misplaced or lost in his
youth and found in mine." Through reiterating
these plausibilities he tried to give bulk and
texture to the fantasy of existence.
The automobile stopped before the Edleman
home, which was a large two-story structure — a
partial reproduction of the Colonial period modi-
fied to conform to the more exuberant inclinations
of an Alsatian Jew. Four broad, high wooden
pillars, painted white, rose over a wide veranda
and ended in a slanting roof of black slate, and
the walls were of red brick courted by an abund-
ance of vines. A large garden, with tons of fruit
trees and brilliant episodes of flowers, surrounded
the house and was enclosed by a level hedge of
shrubs and a low iron fence. An impression of
dreamlessly cluttered luxury, verging in spots
upon bland somnolence, proclaimed the emptjr
heart of the place, but it was almost a distinct
flattery to Carl, who had grown tired of aggressive
angles and plain surfaces. Here, at least, the
mirage held a sleek flirtation with bunches of
color and burdened curves.
His aunt Bertha, a short, stout woman in a
gown of brown taffeta and white lace, welcomed
him in a babbling and languid fashion and showed
him to his room. She was a softly shallow woman
whose major interests were card parties and the
lingering intricacies of gossip. The flabby round-
ness of her face was in the last grip of middle
age and her mind was as scanty and precisely
glistening as the greyish-brown hair that slanted
back from her low forehead. After the dinner,
she hurried off to the mildly mercenary rites of
a bridge whist party and Carl was left to wander
idly around the garden. He sat on the grass
beneath a persimmon tree and played with lazy,
cruel thoughts in which he slapped a man's face
or tortured a woman's cheek, still moved by his
old mania to profane the empty dream which
life had become to him, forcing it into a vigorous
duplicate of reality.
The bright afternoon, with its myriads of
shrilly clear and hissing sounds, was like a
troubled falsetto rapture and he weakly fought
to bring it nearer to his senses. As he sat beneath
the tree he resolved to give his mind some labor
with which it could transform the vision to a
more solid picture, and he thought of the people
who would soon be embarrassing him with their
mouths and eyes. They were Jews of a kind that
had rapidly spread over the south. The older
people among them had migrated to the south
some forty years previously and had gradually
won large or comfortable fortunes by means of
their thriftiness and trading abilities. They were
now contented grand- and great-grand-parents,
surrounded by two generations of their offspring,
and all of them were strangely indifferent to the
austere mysticism for which the Jewish race is so
verbosely noted. Dreamless, voluble, self-assured,
they angled with their religion in a half-hearted
way and blackmailed, with money, the occasional
flutters of mental curiosity. They had picked up
several mannerisms of the south — softly drawling
voices and unhurried movements — and the only
things that distinguished them as Jews were the
curved gusto of their faces and the fact that they
mingled only with each other — a last, lukewarm
trace of loyalty left by the surge of centuries
of past incidents.
Carl went into the house and returned, with
paper and pencil, to his station beneath the per-
simmon tree. He strove to write a poem to the
woman whom he had lost. It was a torture that,
like a starved monster, devoured the softer spaces
within his heart. It was as though he were
endeavoring to compress the ruins of an entire
world, making them narrower and narrower, more
and more alive, until at last they formed the body
of a woman. The effort brought him an actual
physical pain; drops of sweat were born on his
forehead, and his spirit reeled like a mesmerized,
beaten drunkard. "All of life is a lie unless I
make her appear on this paper," he cried aloud
to the persimmon-tree leaves, for the lack of better
gods. He detested his own futility and sought
to avenge himself upon it. When the poem was
finished he fell into a troubled, plundered sleep
in which his consciousness busily made reports
that were unheeded. He could still see the trees
and flowers, but they were like the edge of the
universe miraculously brought near to his eyes.
Finally, with an effort like a straight line thrust-
ing aside several worlds, he roused himself and
read the poem. It failed to satisfy him; it was
a tangle of treacherous promises and pleading
fragments — the line of one of her arms, with
an ashen delicateness ; the nervously boyish
rebuke of her eyes; the tenuous defiance of her
heart; the curled merriments of her hair — frag-
merits fastened to a slip of white paper and
lacking the great surge of breath that could have
whirled them into a speaking whole. He had
written other poems to her and they had pro-
duced the same result ; but still, huddled under the
tree, he continued to write, much like a dying man
who has no choice save to gasp for breath, only
in his case it was a ghost that struggled to avoid
a second death. The ghost was seeking to escape
a final extinction. He wrote until the lengthened
shadow of the tree told him that he must return
to the house ; but it took him at least ten minutes
before he could censure his face and control his
breath. At last, with the thinly passive mask
once more adjusted and held by the slenderest of
threads, he walked from the garden.
At supper he met his cousin. Dr. Joseph Rosen-
stein, who was living at the Edleman home and
who treated him with a suspecting aifability.
The presence of a poet is always a vague challenge
to those people who feel that he is somehow at
variance with the complacent finalities of their
lives, but who cannot draw the difference into a
clearer antagonism. For this reason they try to
cover their distrust with a nervous and question-
ing amiability. After jovially advising Carl to
write a sonnet to a doctor, protesting to a great
admiration for the prettiness of poetry, and asking
Carl whether he didn't think that practical people
were also of some use in the world, Rosenstein
deserted the farce and began to discuss the tech-
nical details of an operation with Dr. Edleman.
Bertha Edleman uttered some placid remarks
concerning the possibility of Carl's writing short
stories that would bring him a great deal of
money; inquired after his parents in a detailed
but listless way ; and then, with more vigor, com-
menced to speak of engagements, marriages and
divorces within her immediate circle. Dr. Edle-
man, by turns waggish and blunt, presided over
the groups of corrupted words. Since Carl was
anxious not to provoke these people, he stooped
to the task of uttering pleasantly obvious remarks
in a timid and deliberate fashion, and since they
secretly felt that his work gave him a rank lower
than theirs, they liked the subdued and abashed
manner in which he spoke.
After that evening he managed to protect his
loneliness with clever words. He told the Edle-
mans that he was looking for material for short
stories and that he intended to roam about the
city; and, elated at his purpose, they did not
object. Since most of his relatives were still
displaying their dignity, jewelry, and card-playing
abilities at northern summer resorts, he found
it easy to be alone.
In the midst of his restless, empty wanderings
he often sat for a while in a little park that
rustled and nodded upon the top of a bluff over-
looking a broad river. There he would stare out
at the wide, yellowish-brown flat of water, and
the dull green convolutions of the distant shore,
and the water would become an ethereal canvas
where he painted fugitive salutes to the woman
who had fled from life's semblances. Under the
spell of a melting daze he would sit for hours,
almost unconscious of the fact that he held a
body of slowly breathing flesh. At one end of
the park the line of benches turned sharply in
toward the city, and this shaded place, guarded
by bushes and trees, was known as "Rounder's
Corner." It was frequented by thieves, drug
peddlers, sly, lacquered women and an occasional
vagrant, and they gathered there from twilight
on and drained the fierce insincerities of conver-
sation and whiskey, with sometimes the lucid
edge of cocaine. Since Carl came to this spot
only during the afternoons, he did not see these
people until, one evening, he managed to absent
himself from the Edleman home on the pretense
of desiring a trip on a river steamboat, and
strolled into the park.
He sat on a bench and looked around him, trying
to become interested in the immediate contortions
of the fantasy. One glance told him the identity
of the social circle into which he had dropped
and he felt a jerk of attention, for the more
openly rough and cruel people in life were to him
reflections of his ghostly self, spied in a coarsely
exaggerated mirror but none the less valid. Fresh
from the lazy inanities of the Edleman house, he
f felt a little baffled vigor — the ghost lamenting its
lack of exercise — and he longed to roll once more
in that plastic phenomenon which men insist on
calling mud. It was only through plastering him-
self with the concentrated moistness of earth that
he could force himself to believe, for a time, in
the reality of life, and he welcomed his chance
to repeat this process. He scanned the whisper-
ing, laughing, loose-faced people around him and
turned over in his mind different ways of
approaching them, since he knew how easy it
was to heap fuel upon their suspicions.
A woman dropped down beside him on the
bench. She was young in actual years — not more
than twenty -three — but her body had been slashed
by a premature herald of middle age and her
rounded face was too softly plump and wrinkled
a little under the eyes and below the chin. Youth
and age were stiffly twined about her in lines
that protested against each other. Her body was
short and held a slenderness that was unnaturally
puffed a bit here and there, giving an impression
of incongruous inflation rather than of solid flesh.
Her black hair was a plentiful mass of artificial
curls and pressed against a wide straw hat, fes-
tooned with tulips made of gaudy cloth, and she
was clad in loosely white muslin with a crimson
sash around her waist. The effect was that of a
school girl playing the part of a street walker
in an amateur theatrical and, if you looked at her
clothes alone, the illusion remained. It was only-
destroyed by a glance at her face, for the outward
costumes of reality are often unconsciously ama-
teurish, as though they were striving to obliterate
the professional aspect held by the faces of human
beings — a psychic confession. Men and women
can never quite memorize their parts in life and
their clothes sometimes express this absent-
As he looked at this woman Carl noticed that
her eyes were not those of the usual flesh
trader — shifting and infantile — but were filled
with a tense distraction. The mere sullen
aftermath of whiskey, or the departure of
a man? No, it almost seemed that she was
actually brooding over emotions that had removed
her leagues from the bench against which her
body was pressed. Eyes are often unwitting
traitors and they tell the truth more readily than
the rest of the face, or words, since human beings
are not so conscious of what their eyes are
announcing. The two holes in the mask of the
face are often transparent or careless admissions,
while the remainder of the face is immersed in
a more successful deception. Carl was interested
by the fact that this woman seemed to ignore
his presence and was staring straight ahead of
her. He began to believe that her indifference
was genuine and he watched her more closely.
Finally she tossed her head, with a gesture that
expressed the defiant return of consciousness, and
glanced at him. Then she threw him the usual
"Hello, honey," and with a disgusted grimace he
dismissed a certain ghostly audience within him,
telling it that the play would not begin. For a
while he spoke to her, throwing slang pebbles at
her with an oppressed exactitude and brushing
aside her lustreless insinuations, a little weary
of the unconvincing comedy. Suddenly the stunt
nauseated him and he fled back to his own meta-
"Do you see that woman passing by ?" he asked.
"She has a face half like a twitching mouse and
half like a poised cat. I have known such women.
They are continually robbing certain men of
emotions in order meekly to hand back their
thefts to other men. With a mixture of cruelty
and weak submission they entertain their own
He looked away from her, expecting a silence
or the affront of cracked laughter and preparing
to leave. Her answer swung his head toward her.
"You may be speaking to such a woman. Life
has undressed me to all people except myself, and
I don't know what I am. I think that I was bom
to be a nun, but something kicked me down a
dirty hallway and when I woke up there were
many hands reaching for me and it didn't seem
important to me whether they took me or not.
But I think that I was bom to be a nun. . . .
Does that interest you?"
He stared at her with his mouth almost describ-
ing a perfect and his eyes opened to a wild
uncertainty. For a moment he felt that they
were both quite dead and that her spirit had
been ravished by waiting words.
"In God's name, what have you been doing?"
"Playing a part, with the assistance of your
indifferent slang," she said.
"I started out by talking to you as I do to
most men. You broke into a rough speech and I
parried as usual. The evening was commencing
in its usual convincing manner. Then I began
to see that you were acting. There was a strain
on your face, and sometimes you stopped in the
middle of a delicate simile. ... I knew that I
might be wrong, so I kept on talking as you
expected me to talk."
On her face was the smile of a beggar whose
tinselled metaphors have been pummeled and
disheveled by surface realities. The plump curves
of her face seemed to fit less snugly beneath the
flat deceit of rouge.
"I am a fool," he said. "Your eyes told me
something, but I spat upon it. I think that you
had better leave me."
"I have no intention of leaving you," she said.
They sat and stared at each other.
"Do you give yourself to different men every
night?" he asked, as though his sophistication,
in an instant curve, had retreated to an anxious
child long concealed within him.
"I give them what they are able to take, and
that is little. They want to clutch me for a time,
but I don't feel them unless they stop my breath-
ing. A man walks into a house, wipes his feet
on the mat, spits into one of the cuspidors, and
leaves with a vacant smile on his face."
"Why do you want them to come in?"
"They give me money for whiskey and leisure
time in which I can read. I've never been able
to find a simpler way of getting these things."
The explanation was clear and delicate to him.
"Of course, the whiskey makes you sneer like
a queen, and the books bring you affairs with
better men," he said.
"All that I want to do is to pray to my thoughts
with appropriate words, and every night until
two in the morning I pay for the granting of
this wish. . . . But I think that I was bom to be
"I think that I was born to be a monk, covering
the walls of his cell with little images, all of
them contorting his bright hatred for a world,"
he said. "I think that something also kicked me
into a mob of prattling marionettes, leaving me
exposed to the shower of unintended blows. I
have often looked behind me and vainly tried to
see who this first enemy was, but I am afraid
that he does not return until you die."
With their silence they continued the dialogue
for a time.
"Have you a man who takes your money and
kicks you?" he asked.
"No. Every now and then some dope peddler
pays me a visit, but I have a gun and I know
how to use it. I sent one of them to a hospital
once. They call me Crazy Georgie May and
they're always afraid of something that they
"I have a proposition to make to you," he said.
"We'll live together without touching each other
and each of us will be the monk and nun that he
should have been. I am a ghost who wants to
return to life and you are a living person who
wants to go back to the ghost that was kicked
into an insincere ritual of flesh. We'll erect a
unique monastery of thought and emotion, and
pay for it with the slavery of your hands or
mine. . . . Will you live with me in this fashion ?"
"Yes, if only to see whether it can be done,"
she answered instantly.
They rose from the bench and walked away
together — a noble rascal and an ascetic prostitute.
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